“The MAC [Mid-American Conference] in women’s basketball is different,” head coach Brady Sallee said.
With six games remaining in the regular season, Ball State (14-9, 7-6 MAC) has lost two consecutive after falling against Buffalo (17-8, 11-4 MAC) 67-62. Before their losing streak, the Cardinals had won five straight.
The Cardinals dropped from No. 4 to No. 6 in the MAC with the loss, with one game separating Ball State from four others. With the top eight teams eligible for the MAC Tournament, the outcome of the final six games will decide the Cardinals fate. Unlike in its 72-70 win at Buffalo Jan. 26, Sallee said Ball State allowed the Bulls to dictate the flow of the game.
“The tempo was different … when we played at their place the game was up and down, high scoring, and a little bit more free,” Sallee said. “It ended up being a very similar game tonight [in how close the score was], the difference was they played their way.”
The Bulls drew 20 fouls and finished 18-for-23 from the free-throw line. Graduate transfer Chyna Latimer finished with a team-high 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting from the charity stripe. Latimer said the continuous fouls prevented the Cardinals from playing their offensive style.
“It limits how we play, we like to play fast and in transition,” Latimer said.
Junior Sydney Freeman converted a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left in the fourth quarter to put the Cardinals down two. Freeman scored 10 points but said Buffalo's defensive style felt “restrictive."
The Bulls were led by junior guard Dyaisha Fair with 31 points and nine assists. Of her 31 points, 11 came from the free-throw line, where Sallee said she made her presence felt.
“When she gets that whistle, what’re you going to do? She’s a great player,” Sallee said. “When we’re successful against good players, we make them have to earn their points and tonight we didn’t do that.”
Ball State utilized multiple defensive looks against Fair, including a scheme based on switching on and off of Fair with Latimer as the primary defender. Latimer said the goal of the defensive scheme was o disrupt Fair and make her uncomfortable.
“Putting me on her was for some length, then we’d switch off-ball screens where a guard could try and speed her up,” Latimer said.
Sallee was impressed with Latimer’s willingness to defend against Fair. Sallee said Latimer embodies the Cardinals character and their effort is never an issue.
“The story of this team so far is they’re all willing to just do what they’re supposed to do,” Sallee said. “The fight was in the dog, we just couldn’t get it done in the end.”
The Cardinals return to the court against Toledo (20-4, 14-1 MAC). Tipoff is 2 p.m.