Conor Hockett

As Ball State's finishing woes continue to cost the team games, Friday's Mid-American Conference opener against Buffalo offers some comfort.

The Bulls have struggled on offense even more than the Cardinals.

Buffalo has scored only six goals to Ball State's nine through eight games. Both Miami (23) and Kent State (17) have scored more goals than the two teams combined.

"I would like to say we're at least being consistent in practice, but it's something they continually have to work at," Ball State coach Craig Roberts said. "Other things, they pick it up and master it. But the finishing, for whatever reason, we're constantly having to focus and improve on."

Flashes of creativity make the struggles even harder to swallow.

In Sunday's game against Butler, Ball State scored off a beautiful through-ball to sophomore forward Jasmine Moses in the 10th minute, only to get blanked in the final 80.

The team's hesitancy to shoot on the field shows the problem has gone far beyond a physical or talent level. Senior defender Brigit Reder said mental blocks need to be broken down.

"The mental side of the game is one you always have to be careful with," Reder said. "It's just a matter of whether it's a forward, midfielder or defender, just relaxing in front of goal and finishing. Having a confident mindset and just thinking, 'This is my job, and I'm going to do it.'"

With its first two conference games at home, Friday's match provides an easier backdrop to reverse the trend.

After Ball State's disappointing end to non-conference play against Butler, Reder said the MAC season provides an opportunity to erase all the wrongs.

"Sunday was kind of a wake-up call that half us didn't show up," Reder said. "Mentally, we all have to be there. Going into the conference season, the energy and intensity is going to pick up. Conference is here now, and today at practice, I think it's going to really set in with people. It's time to get going."

If the team doesn't get going, Roberts said he has no problem subbing liberally in Friday's game. There is no set number of players in the rotation. He said it all depends on how individuals perform on a game-to-game basis.

"We're going to be monitoring players and not looking to give minutes to players just for experience [anymore]," Roberts said. "We're just sticking to the ground crew of who gets it done for us."

Roberts said the team can't get much more offensive minded than the four-forward set it used against Butler. So players who get significant time Friday are likely to be those who finish goal-scoring opportunities.

With nine seniors on the roster, it's likely the Cardinals go as far as the upperclassmen take them on Friday and the rest of the season.

"Last year, we had a very young team, and we were new to the whole approach and expectations as you reach this portion [of the schedule]," Roberts said. "We've got a lot of experience coming back, and now they know what's supposed to happen in these coming games. They know it's important to win at home, specifically."
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