Tyler Poslosky

Three days removed from their first Mid-American Conference loss of the season, coach Kelly Packard and the Cardinals will look to gain ground in the conference standings tonight as they host Northern Illinois at 7 p.m.

Ball State (6-9, 1-1) struggled to control the boards against Western Michigan on Sunday, which lead to the 76-64 defeat in Kalamazoo, Mich. The loss was its fourth in the past five games.

Rebounding is what Packard has stressed the most since the beginning of the season.

"When we rebound well, we usually position to win at the finish line," Packard said.

Junior guard Shanee' Jackson led the Cardinals offensively against the Broncos with 16 points, while recording three assists. Freshman guard Brittany Carter tallied 15 points, including two 3-point field goals on the night.

The Cardinals will have a challenge to control the boards against the third-best defensive rebounding team in the MAC, allowing just more than 36 rebounds by opponents per game.

Packard said rebounding is as much mental as it is physical.

"It's a mentality and it's a commitment," Packard said. "If you know what all their offensive sets are, then you defend them pretty well and they miss the shot and then you give up an offensive rebound, you really haven't done what you need to do to win."

Northern Illinois (6-8, 0-2) has stumbled in its first two games of conference play, with losses to Central Michigan on Thursday and at Eastern Michigan on Sunday. Ball State defeated Eastern Michigan 54-51 in its conference opener on Thursday.

Packard said it's also vital for her team to defend its home floor.

"Being able to hold serve at home in when you're in your conference is such a must, quite honestly," Packard said. "The road is tough."

The Cardinals have played well at home over the last few seasons. Since Packard's first season as coach in 2008-09, the Cardinals own a 19-7 home record against MAC opponents.

Last season, however, Ball State's rally fell just short as Northern Illinois hung on for a 49-46 at Worthen Arena.

Packard said she hopes for different outcome this time around.

"Northern Illinois is a game that we've got to capture that rebounding category again as a bullet point and then grind out some strategy," Packard said. "I tell our team all the time that you can't negate the things that Northern Illinois does and not keep an eye on a key aspect of the game."