In a back-and-forth game, Ball State women's basketball hung on to knock off Buffalo 68-63 at home.

With the clock winding down, Ball State junior center Renee Bennett had just hit a quick layup to give the Cardinals (11-4, 3-1 Mid-American Conference) a three-point 66-63 lead over the University of Buffalo (10-5, 2-2 MAC) as the shot clock expired. 

Game Statistics

Lead changes: 14

Largest Ball State lead: 11
Largest Buffalo lead: 7

Ball State free throws: 13-21
Buffalo free throws: 4-6

Ball State points in paint: 32

Buffalo points in paint: 16

The question for the Cardinals was to foul or not to foul. 

With 8.2 seconds still left in the game, head coach Brady Sallee decided to let the Cardinals defend the three than risk a quick rebound, because Buffalo entered the game shooting 27.9 percent from beyond the arc and had totaled 15 offensive rebounds in the game.

“Here’s the ironic part – we actually practiced fouling in that situation yesterday,” he said. “You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Buffalo’s leading scorer, forward Joanna Smith, in-bounded the ball to sophomore guard Stephanie Reid, who was sprinting away from the basket toward the left wing. Reid caught the pass and fired it back to Smith.

Smith faked right, and Ball State guard Jill Morrison bit, leaving Smith an open 3-point shot after she sidestepped left.

But Sallee’s gamble paid off – Smith’s shot missed.

Bennett hauled in the rebound, was fouled and then hit two free throws to clinch the 68-63 Ball State victory.

Offensively, Bennett led the Cardinals with 16 points, all of which she scored in the second half. She said she focused on being more aggressive after being held scoreless in the first half.

“Going into halftime, I knew that coming out in the second half I had to be better,” she said. “Kind of had to hear about myself a little bit in the locker room during halftime.”

Sallee said his team “got real” during halftime.

"They all had that look like, ‘We got it,’” Sallee said.

Interior play was pivotal to Ball State’s success, as the Cardinals outscored the Bulls 32-16 in the paint, and Sallee said he emphasized toughness because Ball State and Buffalo share a similar physical style of play.

“I would have hated to be an official in this game because – both teams – we weren’t going to give an inch to one another,” Sallee said. “So you were gonna to have to be tough enough to blast screens and take it up against two and three people. And we were.”

Indeed, the officials were certainly hearing it from the crowd throughout the game – Buffalo was charged with 21 fouls compared to the Cardinals’ 11.

Fouls helped the Cardinals take the lead.

While trailing 48-46, Bennett was fouled with 1:30 left in the third quarter. She sank the first shot but missed the second.

Her miss turned out to be a blessing in disguise when senior guard Nathalie Fontaine pulled down the rebound and drew another foul after just three seconds elapsed from the clock.

Fontaine hit both free throws to give the Cardinals the lead 49-48. This would be the 14th and final lead change of the game.

The back-to-back fouls kicked off a 13-0 Ball State run that stretched into the fourth quarter, but with 6:04 remaining, the Bulls countered with their own 12-5 run to pull within one point as 45 seconds remained in the game.

Fontaine finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, her seventh double-double of the season. Morrison was second on the team in terms of points with 14 and made four of her 10 3-point attempts.

Just like Bennett's rebound at the end of game, the Cardinals ended the first half with a bang.

Trailing 35-32 lead before halftime, freshman guard Carmen Grande hauled in a defensive rebound and sprinted up-court with 7.5 seconds left in the half.

Dribbling with her right hand, the Spaniard resembled un torbellino, or a whirlwind, as she threw the ball behind her back to sidestep a defender before sinking the buzzer-beating layup to cap a 6-0 Ball State run to bring the Cardinals within one point at halftime, 35-34.

Sallee said the run, and the play, gave Ball State the momentum at halftime – though he wasn't sure Grande's move was necessary.

“She had to put the [NBA star Manu] Ginobli flair on it, which I’m not the biggest fan of, but it was effective and it worked,” he said. “Thank goodness for her.”

Ball State’s next home game is Jan. 20 against Eastern Michigan University (11-4, 2-2 MAC). The Eagles were predicted to finish atop the MAC West in the preseason coaches’ poll despite the Cardinals receiving eight first-place votes to the Eastern Michigan’s four.

Eastern Michigan also knocked the Cardinals out of the MAC Tournament last season in the semifinals.