On defense, Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger did everything he could to disrupt Persons. But the sharpshooting junior found a sliver of space and released a deep 3-pointer in the waning seconds.
Persons' go-ahead basket with 1.7 seconds to go lifted Ball State to a stunning 80-77 victory over No. 9 Notre Dame on Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. The game marked the biggest win in more than 16 years for Ball State (5-4), whose last win against a Top 25 opponent was Nov. 20, 2001, when it knocked off No. 4 UCLA.
"What an incredible win," Ball State coach James Whitford said to his jubilant players after the game. "Hung in there and fought for 40 minutes."
Persons, a Northern Kentucky transfer, provided the exclamation mark on his team's complete effort. He finished with 24 points on 10-for-19 shooting to lead the Cardinals to their first win over Notre Dame in 10 all-time meetings.
Notre Dame (7-2) lost for the second time in the past three games. The Fighting Irish entered the game as nearly 20-point favorites over their in-state opponent but instead dropped to 3-1 at home.
The only other loss for Notre Dame this season came against No. 3 Michigan State on the road.
"This is the first time we've been smacked," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey told reporters during his postgame news conference. "I'm interested to see how they respond."
Persons clenched his fists and hopped in the air after drilling the go-ahead shot from several feet behind the arc. He watched as Notre Dame's desperation heave fell short at the buzzer.
The Fighting Irish trailed by six points with 1:47 left when guard T.J. Gibbs made a 3-pointer to pull Notre Dame within 75-72. On the next time down the court, Irish forward Bonzie Colson made a layup to trim the deficit to 75-74 with 1:15 remaining. Guard Matt Farrell evened the score at 77 when he made a 3-pointer from the right wing with 24 seconds to go.
Notre Dame opened the second half on a 12-4 run to transform a five-point deficit into a 41-38 lead with 17:13 to play. Pflueger scored eight points during the run.
However, Ball State was undeterred by Notre Dame's outburst. The Cardinals battled back to go ahead 67-58 with 6:47 to play after Persons scored seven straight on a pair of jump shots and a 3-pointer.
Ball State led 34-29 at halftime. The Cardinals led by eight points with six minutes to go before the break, but the Fighting Irish closed the gap with a 7-0 run that included a three-point conversion by Martinas Geben.
Colson paced the Irish with 26. Farrell scored 14, Geben 12 and Pflueger 11.
Ball State got 13 points and eight rebounds from Tahjai Teague and 11 points from Sean Sellers.
Brey credited the Cardinals for their perseverance.
"It's a neat story, in-state kids," Brey said. "They're good. I'll be following them, and I'll be rooting for them because we need them to win, right?
"We need them to be good. I think they're going to be very good."
NOTES: Ball State visited Notre Dame for the first time since 1976. ... The Fighting Irish were the highest-ranked opponent the Cardinals have played since they faced No. 1 Indiana on Nov. 25, 2012. ... Notre Dame was outrebounded 40-26. ... Fighting Irish F Bonzie Colson missed all four of his 3-point attempts but hit 10 of 19 shots from the floor overall.