With 6:30 remaining in the first half Saturday against Eastern Michigan University, Ball State University coach Kelly Packard was left shaking her head. What was going through her mind was anybody's guess, but it had to have been something like "here we go again."
At that point, Ball State (10-15, 4-8 Mid-American Conference) was 4-for-20 from the field and Ball State's best free-throw shooter, senior guard Audrey McDonald, had just missed a free throw.
If that's what Packard was thinking, her fears were well founded. The Cardinals would go on to lose 63-57 to the Eagles at Worthen Arena.
"We've been really solid free-throw shooters last year and this year," Packard said. "There were a lot of places where we left points available off the board. Fifteen points were available to us."
There was plenty more where that came from. After that McDonald miss, which came with Ball State trailing by 10, the Cardinals struggled from the line. Collectively, Ball State shot 44.4 percent from the line.
"I started the missing," McDonald said. "I can't do that. When I step to the line I have to make every single one."
Free throws really mattered because the game turned into a turf war. In all, 48 fouls were whistled in a rough game that often saw bodies littering the floor.
Each team suffered injuries with players having to leave the game to be taped up after contact or diving to the floor to gather a loose ball.
"Everyone gets sore. There's a lot of pushing and shoving underneath," junior forward Emily Maggert said. "Everyone takes a fall at some time. It does show more at the end of the season, but you have to get back out there and go again."
Maggert finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds. McDonald led all scorers with 20 points.
The rough game resulted in free throws playing a crucial role in the outcome. The score remained close as Ball State used two rallies to pull within four points late in the game. But as Eastern Michigan made their free throws, finishing 21-for-28 from the line, Ball State missed them.
"I'm sure Eastern Michigan would say they didn't play that well," Packard said. "You have to compliment them. They're on the road and take the win. I don't want to take that away from them, but boy, you know, 15 points were available to us."