One constant that has been surrounding the Cardinals this season is playing from start to finish. Playing in close games has been consistent throughout the entire season. Wednesday’s conference tilt against Toledo (11-15, 6-9 MAC) proved to be no different. Ball State Women’s Basketball (19-8, 11-4 MAC) defeated the Rockets 66-60 in a physical game from start to finish. 

“Seems like every time we play Toledo it’s just a slugfest. We were prepared for that, so it didn’t shock us,” head coach Brady Sallee said. “I told them with about seven minutes to go, I said let’s just go win it.”

In the early going, Ball State had to feel out what Toledo was doing defensively to adjust their offense. The Cardinals shot 50-percent in the first quarter to have a two-point advantage after one frame. 

Wednesday night MAC scoreboard

Bowling Green - 82, Ohio - 68

Kent State - 68, Akron - 50 

Northern Illinois - 65, Eastern Michigan - 59 

Buffalo - 88, Miami (Ohio) - 72 

Central Michigan - 76, Western Michigan - 60 

“Toledo is well-coached, they have a lot of pride down there,” Sallee said. “They’re never going to quit and let you stomp them, they’re going to keep fighting through it.” 

The Rockets never quit during the game. By halftime, the Cardinals were able to stretch the lead to 11 points. 26 of their 36 first-half points came from the paint. The post was an area that Ball State turned to throughout the game. 

Battling for position in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, Ball State needs to win enough games down the stretch to secure a first-round bye and head straight to Cleveland. After dropping their fourth conference game to Eastern Michigan on Saturday, the Cardinals needed to get back on track at home. 

“Sometimes it’s best for me to get out of their way,” Sallee said. “You see leadership and connectivity. You see a lot of things out there that are leading to them being able to win close games.”

The Rockets outscored the Cardinals in the third quarter 16-14, and their offense went 46-percent from the field during that frame. By the fourth quarter, Ball State knew they were going to have to play to the final horn. 

Redshirt freshman guard Anna Clephane scored four points in the fourth quarter that included timely free throws with just 29 ticks left. The made free throws gave the Cardinals a four-point advantage and helped them lock up the win. Clephane finished her night with 10 points.

Head coach Brady Sallee yells at an official after a foul is called on Ball State, Jan. 25, 2020, in John E. Worthen Arena. Sallee is in his eighth yeas as the Cardinals' head coach. Jacob Musselman, DN

 The Cardinals found offense early in the game through the ways of junior forward Oshlynn Brown. She put up her third straight double-double tonight. Pouring in 22 points and 13 rebounds, Brown was a steady force on offense that Ball State needed. 

“I thought today she played with a lot of energy and poise,” Sallee said. “Up at their place she got a lot of charges called against her. She adjusted and she’s starting to play up and down.”  

Trust has been something that is big for the Cardinals this season. Knowing the ability and potential of each player on the floor has been big this season. When the game was close down the stretch and Toledo was trying to steal possessions, Sallee kept his timeouts in his pockets. He says it’s trust that drives that. 

Adding to that trust, after nearly every foul call or before every free throw, the Cardinals that are on the court huddle up for a brief second. Knowing where they are in the game, the time and the score are big and they use that to their advantage. 

“It’s normally knowing who we are matching up with,” Samz said. “In close games, we know if we’re calling a timeout or not. It’s quick, short, simple.”

Post-play has been a focus for the Cardinals all season long and Wednesday was no different. Collecting 42 of their 60 points down low, Ball State had a matchup advantage. The force of sophomore forward Blake Smith and Freshman forward Annie Rauch was big for the Cardinals. 

“A big thing for us today was setting screens and we had been focusing on that in practice,” Rauch said. “Screening, rolls, pops, and flares was what I was trying to do. If I couldn’t get open, just trying to get my teammates open and work the offense that way.” 

Rauch finished her night with seven points and Smith went scoreless, but their efforts were noticed off of the ball. Setting screens and clearing the lane for the guards to drive to the hoop was big offensively.  

The Cardinals now gear up for their regular-season home finale against Central Michigan on Saturday afternoon. The Chippewas are currently a perfect 15-0 in the conference and looking to make it 16-0 when they come to Muncie. 

“Whether it’s Central Michigan or someone else, we’ll be ready to play Saturday,” Sallee said. “I would imagine Central is excited to play us and we’re going to be excited to play them.”

Contact Grant Covey with comments at gacovey@bsu.edu or on Twitter @grant_covey