It was the final game of the year for Ball State Women’s Basketball (21-9, 13-5 MAC). Win or lose, the Cardinals had already punched their ticket to Cleveland for next week’s Mid-American Conference tournament. The game for Western Michigan (17-12, 10-8 MAC), on the other hand, decided if it would be playing Monday. It took an extra five minutes for Ball State to take down the Broncos 64-63.
It would only be fitting for Ball State in its regular season finale to finish how a majority of its games have shaped. 21 of the Cardinals’ 30 regular season games have been decided by 10 points or fewer.
The Cardinals were tasked with taming the Broncos on Senior Day in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Western Michigan opened the game showing off its defense. Both teams went on scoring droughts over 3:30 in the opening frame.
The final seconds of the first quarter were not good for Ball State. Freshman guard Estel Puiggros found herself down on the court in pain with just 31 seconds left. She was helped off the floor and returned to the bench after halftime in crutches. The Broncos held a one-point advantage after ten minutes.
“We had the feeling that with Estel going down, we weren’t going to lose this one,” head coach Brady Sallee said. “These players have a lot of pride. We talked about that, and playing with heart, they showed a ton of it today.”
It was the second frame where the Cardinals were able to form a gap between the two sides. Ball State held Western Michigan to just 10 points, while the Cardinals went on to score 20.
First half scoring can be credited to sophomore forward Thelma Dis Agustsdottir. She scored 11 points, including three from deep range. Even with Puiggros going down, it didn’t stop the Cardinals from gaining a nine-point lead by halftime.
“You could see it on everybody’s face, they were a little bit shell-shocked,” Sallee said. “As close as this team is, there is probably no bigger adversity that we’ve faced.”
For the Broncos, it was the third quarter where they came alive. Junior forward Leighah-Amori Wool scored six points for Western Michigan in the third quarter. Wool connected on a buzzer-beating two-point field goal to give the Broncos the 41-40 advantage.
After leading all scorers with 11 points at the break, Dis Agustsdottir couldn’t follow it up in the second half. She was held scoreless in the third and fourth quarters. However, her absence on offense did not faze Ball State. It was freshman guard Sydney Freeman and junior forward Oshlynn Brown who picked up the slack.
Freeman and Brown ended their day leading the team in scoring with 17 points. Brown picked up her 16th double-double of the season, ending the regular season with five straight double-doubles. Dis Agustsdottir finished with 13 and freshman forward Annie Rauch scored seven complemented by four rebounds.
“I thought [Brown’s] second half, she played really poise,” Sallee said. “She had three fouls, and we tried to rest her a little bit when we could. Down the stretch, she still played tough and did everything we needed her to do.”
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Cardinals needed to outscore the Broncos by one to force overtime or by two to win outright. After a back-and-forth final quarter, Ball State outscored Western Michigan 17-16. Wool had an opportunity to take a lead with under 30 seconds to play, but two missed free throws held the Broncos back.
In the extra quarter, the Broncos came out firing as they needed a win to get the fourth seed in next week’s conference tournament. A 6-0 run by Western Michigan to start the final five minutes took a toll on the Cardinals defense. Eventually though, Ball State was able to find offense through Dis Agustsdottir, Freeman and Brown. The trio prompted a 7-0 run of its own to come out on top.
Now it is on to Cleveland for Ball State. The Cardinals will play the winner of Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan, on March 11, who play on Monday in DeKalb, Illinois. The Cardinals split the season series with both of these teams.