If most basketball teams want to win close contests down the stretch and convert zero shots in the final eight minutes of the game, then free throw shooting typically becomes critical to winning or losing.
The Ball State University men's basketball team did exactly that Saturday afternoon against the University of California-Davis by not making a single shot from the field in the final 8:19 of the second half.
But the Cardinals were let down at the charity stripe in the entire second half and blew a four-point halftime lead to the Aggies in the 60-58 loss at Worthen Arena.
Ball State made 19-of-32 (59.4 percent) of its free throw attempts in the game, including 12-of-23 (52.2 percent) of its free throws in the second half.
"In a tight ball game, a one-possession ball game, you've got to be able to make your free throws," Ball State coach Billy Taylor said. "We have confidence in our guys that they will and that they will keep working on it, and they'll make those plays for us."
Taylor said the Cardinals (2-2) struggled offensively by trying to figure out UC-Davis's "unique" 1-3-1 extended zone defensive scheme.
The Aggies' starting lineup was lengthy — a 6-foot-5 guard, two 6-foot-8 wingmen, a 6-foot-9 guard and a 6-foot-10 wing/post player — that oftentimes befuddled the Cardinals' ball handlers just as they brought the ball past half court.
Ball State had 16 turnovers in the game to just 11 assists.
"[UC-Davis] did a great job sticking to their game plan and playing their defense," said sophomore center Jarrod Jones, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. "That 1-3-1 zone, it was aggressive coming in to trap. I think they did a good job putting ball pressure on the wings and the outside to keep them from throwing the ball in."
Despite the second-half troubles, Ball State found some holes in the Aggies' defense in the first half. The Cardinals led 42-38 at halftime in a period where they shot 11-of-27 (40.7 percent) from the field, including 3-of-6 from the 3-point line and 7-of-9 (77.8 percent) on free throw attempts.
"I thought we did a better job in the first half of once the ball got into the corner, we cut into open areas," Taylor said. "Second half, we stood a little bit more, and things really got stagnant."
Ball State also struggled in its matchup against 6-foot-10-inch Dominic Calegari.
The senior forward wasn't scared to shoot from beyond the 3-point arc against Ball State, hitting 5-of-7 3-point attempts and finishing with a game-high 24 points.
"[Calegari is] a tough cover and he's a little bit of a unique player that is very, very good on the perimeter and also pretty good on the post," Taylor said. "He got some free, open looks, and that kind of got him going to where he was able to go down to the post and be effective, as well."
For the second straight game, the Cardinals were led offensively by freshman guard Jauwan Scaife.
Scaife had a team-high 14 points — tying his career high — on 3-of-7 shooting from 3-point land, one game after scoring a team-best 10 points in Ball State's 66-46 loss at Temple University.
Scaife has reached double figures in all four games and is averaging 12.5 points per game this season.
Senior forward Terrence Watson also notched his first-career double-double by scoring 11 points and grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds.
Ball State's road to ending its current two-game funk doesn't get any easier from this point.
The Cardinals next host No. 10 Butler University at 7 p.m. on Wednesday before traveling to Indiana State University on Dec. 9 and Tennessee Tech on Dec. 12.
The team then travels to play No. 6 Purdue University on Dec. 19 at Conseco Fieldhouse before beginning a 3-game homestand over Christmas Break.