Basketball is often a game of runs, high and lows and momentum shifts. Sunday afternoon's battle between the University of Toledo and Ball State University had it all. Neither team wanted to concede the game, yet it was Ball State claiming a hard-fought 73-69 victory at Worthern Arena.
There were 10 lead changes, six ties and several high pressure situations for both teams. In short, it was another classic entry into the recent history between the Rockets and Cardinals.
"What a great conference game. I think everybody got to witness great basketball in January. We didn't have to wait for March," coach Kelly Packard said. "Compliments to Toledo. This is the most gratifying win for this group."
In a game of runs and momentum swings, Ball State capitalized when it mattered most to cash in to pick up the victory and move above .500 on the season. The Cardinals improved to 9-8 (3-1 Mid-American Conference) while dropping the Rockets to 13-4 (3-1 MAC).
"It's exciting. We've worked hard in practice," junior Ty'Ronda Benning said of the win. "To come out with a win is big for us. It's exciting and is a confidence boost."
Ball State started quick for the second straight game, building up a 12-2 lead in the first six minutes. Junior forward Emily Maggert did the damage during this period, scoring 10 of her 24 points. Maggert also pulled down 13 rebounds in 39 minutes.
"It was just another day at the office for Emily," Packard said. "It's amazing, the season she's having. Not just the 24-13 tonight, but her versatility."
Everyone knew Toledo would make its run and they did not disappoint. The Rockets responded with a 21-6 run over the next 10 minutes, setting up an exciting conclusion to the period.
Senior guard Audrey McDonald hit a 3-pointer, scored another bucket and then got a friendly couple bounces from the iron to get another trey to drop. A 13-3 run just before the half gave Ball State a 31-26 halftime lead.
"I just give that to my gym. I just love playing at John E. [Worthern Arena]. It's a good place to play," McDonald said. "I got a good bounce. There's not much else you can ask for."
After the break, the pace quickened as each team tried to find the holes in the defense. As a result, Benning was able to get into the paint and make a few circus shots. Benning's slashing into the lane helped the Cardinals from 3-point land where they hit at a 66.7 percent clip from beyond the arc in the second game.
For the game, Ball State shot 47.4 percent from long distance, blistering the Toledo defense who forced its foes into making 26.6 percent entering Sunday's game.
The final 10 minutes saw five lead changes, but a Maggert trey and a couple Benning buckets put Ball State in front for good. Down the stretch it was in the hands of Benning and McDonald to make free throws.
"I was told once you should never hit rim on a free throw," McDonald said. "You should swish it every time."
Benning missed her first of two, but that was the only miss in the waning moments as McDonald would hit six straight.
"I know it's bad, but I just assume Audrey is going to make them," Packard said. "Earlier this season, she was the top free throw shooter in the nation."
As of Thursday, McDonald is the number three free throw shooter, making 93 percent. Sunday's 6-for-6 has improved her percentage to 93.9.
Benning admitted to not being used to the pressure to drain a free throw after forcing a turnover and drawing a foul in the same play.
"I was a little nervous to be honest. I knew what the score was and I had not made many free throws so I missed that one," Benning said. "[Making the second free throw] was exciting and was a good lift for us."
Ball State held Toledo to 37.9 percent from the floor and held the Rockets under 70 points. Toledo also has lost all four of its games this season when trailing at the half.
The win is key for Ball State in the conference standings. Though the Cardinals and the Rockets are both 3-1 in conference play, Ball State's win against Toledo gives it the advantage.
Ball State now takes a road trip next week to face Eastern Michigan University and Kent State University.
"It was a huge step forward for us defensively today," Packard said. "I guarantee you Toledo will be contending for the title."