At halftime, Brady Sallee was the last one off the court for Ball State.
As the rest of the women’s basketball team went past him to the locker rooms within Quicken Loans Arena – some walking and others jogging – the Ball State head coach was looking at their faces, determining how to address his team in the locker room.
Ball State scored just 18 points in the first two quarters of the Mid-American Conference quarterfinal matchup against Western Michigan, marking the team’s lowest first half point total of the season.
“I was watching my players' reaction going off the floor because we got caught up in some stuff that you shouldn’t get caught up in,” Sallee said. “Whether it’s calls, plays or we’re just worried about the wrong things, and that had my concern because you’re not going to dig out of a hole like we were in if you’re a splintered group. You’ve got to be cohesive in that moment and come together.
“I think at times we did, clearly we made a little bit of a run there, and we showed a little bit of toughness, but we couldn’t quite get over the hump.”
The uncharacteristic first half can be compared to just two other instances this season. When Ball State faced off Central Michigan on Dec. 30 and Ohio on Feb. 3, the Cardinals scored just 24 and 20 first half points, respectively. In each of those contests, Ball State lost by four.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, Ball State cut Western Michigan’s lead to eight points but was unable to secure the comeback victory. The Cardinals lost 65-54, scoring its lowest single-game total of the year, against a Broncos team it had beat twice in the regular season by an average of 18.5 points.
At moments, Ball State looked like it was on pace to make a comeback, but each fell short to Western Michigan’s strong shooting night.
“We just had to go play-by-play, try to get stops and then try to run good offense and just go give it all that we could,” junior Carmen Grande said.
Mentally, the Cardinals knew what to do, it just didn’t translate to shots falling in. On the night, Ball State shot just 36.4 percent from the field and 25 percent from behind the arc while allowing Western Michigan to shoot over 45 percent from 3-point range.
The plethora of 3-pointers started early, as the Broncos nailed five deep balls in the first quarter alone. In the second, Ball State found itself down by as many as 26 points, missing numerous shots that it would normally hit offensively.
“I’d be the first to admit, I think Ball State missed some shots that they would probably say ‘Boy, we usually make those,’” Western Michigan head coach Shane Clipfell said. “I don’t discount that at all, so I think we were the recipient of some of that.”
Regardless, No. 6 Western Michigan advances to play in a Friday MAC semifinal matchup against No. 2 Buffalo, who beat No. 10 Kent State 72-50 in the previous game.
While this probably won’t be Ball State’s last game of the season, its preemptive departure from Cleveland significantly lowers its chance to earn a potential at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.