Andrew Walker

Of all the words sputtered by Ball State University coach Billy Taylor during the 10-plus minutes of his weekly press conference Monday, none were more important than effort and energy.

The third-year coach said effort 14 times and energy five times.

Taylor said his team has lacked both in its last two games – losses against Eastern Michigan University and at lowly University of Toledo.

Going down the stretch run for a squad trying to compete for positioning in the Mid-American Conference Tournament and West Division title hunt, Taylor twice described this feeling as one a team never wants to hear at this juncture of the season: disappointed.

"I think some of our inexperience has shown in that I think some of our guys are putting too much pressure on themselves that ‘We have to win. This is a must-win,'" Taylor said. "The only thing that is a must is that you must play hard. You must go out and play hard and compete, and then everything else will work itself out, so that's really going to be my focus for this week."

The Cardinals (15-13, 8-7 MAC) lost 72-67 on Senior Night last week to Eastern Michigan before falling 45-42 on Saturday to a Toledo team that came in on a 19-game losing streak and 0-14 in MAC play.

In both games, Taylor said, the opponent dictated the way that the game was played.

"What surprises me is we play with great effort in practice – why that hasn't carried over to the game, the last two games, is a little bit mind-boggling to me," he said. "I'm not saying that you're going to play perfect, but you give yourself a chance to have some success, and we have not played as hard as we need to play."

Ball State travels to Western Michigan University on Thursday in both teams' regular season finale. While the outcome is critical when it comes to the MAC standings, Taylor doesn't care about those factors right now.

"If you're not carrying it over from practice to the games, then it's a little bit mind-boggling in terms of, why wouldn't you?" he said. "This is when you want to do it. This is when you want to succeed."

In the end, Taylor doesn't place his emphasis in wins and losses. It all is placed into two areas:

Effort and energy.

"That's got to be the thing that really drives us. That's got to be the thing that our program is built around," Taylor said. "Not competing the last two games has really been a disappointment for me."