Tyler Koch's layup with 3:13 left put Ball State up 60-52, and the Cardinals (5-22, 2-14 Mid-American) made 14 of 16 free throws from there to hold on for the win.
Chris Fowler had 26 points, nine assists and five rebounds for Central Michigan (10-18, 3-13). During the final 2 minutes, Fowler scored 11, including a pair of 3-pointers, to help the Chippewas close the gap while Ball State made its free throws.
Ball State turned the ball over with 2.3 seconds left after Rayshawn Simmons cut the deficit to 74-71 on a 3-pointer, but Fowler missed a potentially game-tying 3 at the buzzer.
Zavier Turner scored 12 and Chris Bond 10 as Ball State snapped a 10-game losing streak.
Braylon Rayson added 11 points for CMU.