Senior forward Nathalie Fontaine of the women's basketball team closely guarded by two Miami defenders on Jan. 9 at Worthen Arena. The Cardinals have averaged 86 points per game this season and will play Nov. 22 through 24 in the Savannah Invitational in Georgia. Breanna Daugherty // DN File
Cardinals eliminated from MAC Tournament in quarterfinals
There was no storybook ending, no Mid-American Conference Tournament championship and no NCAA appearance for Ball State women's basketball.
Instead, the third-seeded Cardinals (21-9, 13-5 MAC) will hope for a bid to the National Invitation Tournament after dropping the MAC Tournament quarterfinals to six-seed Eastern Michigan (21-10, 10-8 MAC) 67-53.
Ball State shooting: 19-62 (30.6 percent)
Eastern Michigan shooting: 21-64 (32.8 percent)
Ball State rebounds: 43
Eastern Michigan rebounds: 48
Ball State free throws: 9-12 (75 percent)
Eastern Michigan free throws: 18-25 (72 percent)
Ball State leading scorer: Nathalie Fontaine, 14 points
Eastern Michigan leading scorer: Cha Sweeney, 29 points
Ball State head coach Brady Sallee said he was disappointed he couldn’t send senior guard Nathalie Fontaine, the Cardinals’ all-time leading scorer, out on top.
“I just hate it for [Fontaine] because she deserves to play for a championship,” he said. “She deserves to win a championship — play in an NCAA tournament — and I feel like I let her down.”
Fontaine recorded her 19th double-double of the season against Eastern Michigan, leading Ball State with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
She fought back tears during the post-game press conference, saying her Ball State records and MAC Player of the Year award don’t soften the blow of losing in the conference tournament.
Freshman guard Carmen Grande tied Fontaine with 14 points against the Eagles. She logged 39 minutes in the game and said it was difficult to play against Eastern Michigan’s full-court press.
“You need to play through it, take care of the ball and try to find the easy passes all of the time,” she said. “But at some point, you’ll get tired.”
Grande hit a 3-pointer with 9:12 left in the game to cut Eastern Michigan’s lead to 5 points, 45-40.
Fontaine hauled in a defensive rebound on the ensuing Eagles’ possession and back on the offensive end, she drove toward the basket.
The Cardinals on the bench jumped out of their seats when Fontaine’s shot went in as the referee’s whistle marked a foul, but their screams of excitement quickly turned to anger.
The referee called no shot.
Though the Cardinals retained possession, sophomore forward Moriah Monaco missed the 3-point attempt and junior Eagle guard Janay Morton hit a 3-point shot at the other end to increase the lead with 8:28 remaining, 48-40, in a potential 6-point swing.
Eastern Michigan head coach Tory Verdi said it was a pivotal moment.
“They get a little confidence going, and then all of the sudden we answer right back,” he said. "It just reminded me of a lot of last year. It’s kind of eerie.”
Last season, the Eagles also knocked the Cardinals out of the MAC Tournament. In the semifinals, sixth-seed Eastern Michigan won 75-65.
Sallee said he doesn’t know how the Eagles have been able to make runs with a low seed.
“They’ve cornered the market on finishing sixth and being able to come up here and win a bunch of games,” he said. “So when [Verdi] releases that book, I’ll buy it and read it.”
This year, the Cardinals swept the Eagles in the regular season, winning both at home and on the road before losing in the quarterfinals.
Ball State finished the season with the best shooting percentage in the MAC with a 42.7 percent clip from the field.
Against the Eagles, however, the Cardinals hit just 30.6 percent of their shots from the floor (19-62).
Eastern Michigan also outrebounded Ball State 48-43. And although the Cardinals hit 75 percent of their free-throw shots compared to the Eagles’ 72-percent rate, Eastern Michigan still had twice as many points from the charity stripe, 18-9, because it had 25 attempts, while Ball State only went to the line 12 times.
Sallee said it was just a bad game at the wrong time.
“It’s not like all of the sudden we’re broken," he said. “We just stunk.”
When asked about having a “fairly good” season, Sallee said he took the question as a compliment.
“I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job with this program, because five years ago Ball State wasn’t here,” he said. “And so that’s how far this program has come — when you call 21 wins a 'fairly good' season.”
Though an NCAA Tournament berth is likely out of the question — the MAC has not had two teams receive bids to the tournament since 1996 — Sallee said he thinks his team will receive a berth to the NIT for the fourth consecutive season.