Junior forward Moriah Monaco attempts to pass the ball at the game against Northern Illinois University on Jan. 28 in Worthen Arena. The cardinals lost 101-96. Breanna Daugherty // DN
Ball State women's basketball falls to second in MAC West with loss
Worthen Arena's 25th anniversary celebration didn't quite go as well as Ball State women's basketball wanted.
The Cardinals (14-7, 7-2 MAC) lost a fast-paced 101-96 matchup to the Northern Illinois Huskies (15-5, 8-1 MAC) that broke the tie atop the Mid-American Conference West standings Jan. 28.
"I give a lot of credit to Northern because they made big play after big play," head coach Brady Sallee said. "My kids fought and I'm proud of them for that, I thought we played at a high level. Northern just played at a little bit higher level. Again, whale of a game between two really good teams, but it counts just like the rest of them."
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Cardinals, but most of the offensive numbers were there. The Cardinals shoot 44.7 percent on the season and shot 44.2 percent against the Huskies. Six different players scored double-digit points, led by 23 from junior forward Moriah Monaco. Sophomore point guard Carmen Grande, who is third in the NCAA with 7.8 assists per game, recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists.
Tempo was the biggest difference. Ball State is third in the MAC with 73.7 points per game, but its two conference losses are to the top two offenses in the league — NIU scores 89.1 points per game and Central Michigan (14-6, 6-2 MAC) scores 75.2.
"It probably starts with me because I said, 'Let's go play,'" Sallee said. "We're OK with this tempo, I don't think our kids shy away from going up and down and playing in this type of a game, I think we're very comfortably playing in this type of a game. And so, I chose the first time through playing these people to play. If it wasn't for some breakdowns, and again, you give them credit because they made us pay, we were right there."
The Huskies (38.0 percent) and Chippewas (36.2 percent) are also the two most efficient three-point shooting teams in the conference, and both made more than half of their three-point attempts against the Cardinals. In this game, NIU made 52 percent (13-25) of its threes and on Jan. 11 Central Michigan hit 60.7 percent (17-28) in a 101-92 win over Ball State.
Sallee said he'll look at the tape to see whether the Huskies were getting too many easy looks or if they were just on a roll.
"Those are the things we'll learn from film," Sallee said. "We'll come back in and practice we'll get better. But as the game's going, the good teams have an ability to see something that just broke down and then fix it on the fly. ... I think we did that at times, I think at other times that showed up in some 'undiscipline.' And when we're undisciplined, they burn us."
Ball State scored 96 points against NIU, including 50 points in the paint, but only hit 29.4 percent of its threes (10-34). Sallee isn't too worried though. Just like the defensive end, he's more concerned about open looks and scheme instead of which players had an off night.
"We understand that some nights they're going to fall, and some nights when they don't you've got to be able to lean on something else," Sallee said. "For most of the season, we've leaned on our defense, and we've been able to stop a team when we haven't made a ton of threes."
The Cardinals still own the best average scoring margin in the MAC (plus 11.1 points) and their defense gives up just 62.6 points per game. Ball State is 0-3 when its opponents score 80 or more points though, so Sallee is considering switching up the play-style — depending on what he sees on tape.
"If this was the championship game, then maybe we go about it differently," Sallee said. "But there's a lot of basketball left and what I'm worried about is us, how are we playing. I don't know that this loss changes how we're playing."
Ball State's next game is at 7 p.m. Feb. 1 at Akron.