Heading into their matchup against the Rockets, the Cardinals knew it would be a tough game. In the 2021-22 season, Ball State Women’s Basketball fell to Toledo in each regular season game, yet picked up a win in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship Tournament.
“There's a lot of pride in both locker rooms,” Sallee said. “It just seems like for 10 plus years now, every time we play Toledo it's just been that capital matchup. They're a physical, tough team, we’re a physical, tough team, [and] neither team ever backs down.”
In the MAC Preseason Coaches Poll, the Rockets were picked to win the MAC, while Ball State was slated to finish second. For Toledo, this was a bounceback game after losing to Northern Illinois (9-5, 1-2 MAC) 67-66 in their previous contest.
Seven lead changes later, the Rockets (11-3, 2-1 MAC) once again emerged victorious over the Cardinals (12-4, 2-1 MAC), picking up a 83-76 win at home headlined by Toledo senior guard Quinesha Lockett’s (Preseason All-MAC First Team) 23 points. Like every conference game has been so far this season for the Cardinals, it was a tightly-contested affair.
“I think any loss you're not okay with,” Sallee said. “The close ones [are] a little bit tougher, because you tend to look at a play here and there, but when you're in the middle of this grind, you focus way more on how you're playing than necessarily every single outcome.”
The 11th-season head coach said there isn’t much room for error against a team like Toledo. Sophomore Ally Becki, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Cardinals, backed him up by saying it’s crucial to take care of the ball toward the end of a close game, adding mental mistakes potentially cost Ball State the game.
Ball State did a routinely solid job taking care of the ball in the first half with four turnovers, however, the Cardinals subsequently turned the ball over 10 times in the second half. These 14 total turnovers led to 20 points from Toledo, as opposed to Ball State’s seven points off their 11 takeaways.
Becki was a gametime scratch in the Cardinals’ previous game, a 81-73 victory over Bowling Green (13-2, 2-1), with a swollen knee noticed after Ball State’s pregame shoot around. However, Becki said she started rehab on her knee immediately following the Jan. 7 contest, and said she was itching to get back in time for Toledo. After playing 33 minutes, Becki said she had no issues with her knee during the loss.
Thelma Dis Agustsdottir, who played the full 40 minutes of gametime, had 14 points off 4-10 shooting from the 3-point line, adding to Ball State’s 46 percent line from beyond the arc as a team. Sallee said the Cardinals’ 3-point shooting kept them in the game, however, it was free-throw shooting that may have kept them out of it. While the Cardinals shot 83 percent from the charity stripe, they only made five of six attempts, as opposed to the Rockets’ 21-24 (88 percent) line.
While sophomore Marie Kiefer had 19 points, including 16 in the first half, Toledo largely took care of business in the paint against the Cardinals, outscoring them 42-28 in that area. The rebounding battle was close (Toledo 33-30) and Ball State even out-offensive rebounded the Rockets 7-6, yet Toledo earned two monumental O-boards in the fourth quarter.
“At the end they got a couple of big ones,” Sallee said. “The timing of it was really a wind out of the sails kind of moment. We got a stop and all we had to do was rebound the ball. So again, you gotta be so tight in a game like this.”
When talking about what the Cardinals can take away from their first conference loss of the season, Becki said it's important Ball State continues to play at a consistent high-level, rather than playing at their opponent’s level.
“As always, [we need to] focus on who we are and playing [as] who we are,” Becki said. “The team knows what we need to do to step up…we’re here this year to prove something.”
The Cardinals are back in action Jan. 14, at 11 a.m. when they take on Miami (OH) (6-10, 1-2 MAC) in Muncie, Ind.