After Ball State Women’s Basketball’s loss to Bowling Green March 1, the Cardinals were locked in as the No. 3 seed of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) women’s basketball tournament March 8, 10-11, in Cleveland. A win or a loss in their final regular season game didn’t matter as far as the standings went.
But it mattered to their opponent.
Their opponent, Miami (Ohio), was fighting for a spot in the upcoming tournament, so Ball State head coach Brady Sallee knew they weren’t a threat to be taken lightly. However, Ball State (24-7, 14-4 MAC) emerged victorious over the RedHawks (12-19, 7-11 MAC) 77-68. With this loss, Miami was eliminated from contention in the MAC Tournament.
“It was a good test to see if our kids really fought like ‘1-0 today,’ Sallee said. “...Going in, we knew we were gonna get their best just because of what they're playing for, and we had to meet their energy level…It was good to see us be exactly who we've been all year.”
Ball State was in mostly firm control from the tip-off, leading at the end of the first quarter and at halftime. By the end of the third, the Cardinals were up 56-46. Sophomore Madelyn Bischoff, who finished with 17 points, took over scoring for the Cardinals in the first three quarters.
Around the 4:30 mark in the fourth quarter, the RedHawks rode a 10-0 plus run to take their first lead since the first quarter after Ball State previously led by as much as 15. On the next possession, sophomore Ally Becki hit a layup that was the Cardinals’ first field goal of the quarter, followed up by another layup from redshirt senior Anna Clephane.
Just like that, the Cardinals were back in control.
Many starters on each side found themselves in foul trouble late in the contest, including Becki, who fouled out with 51 seconds left with nine points. While Sallee said a large reason why Ball State lost to Bowling Green earlier in the week came down to the Cardinals’ 11-25 free throw shooting, adjustments were made heading into this contest as Ball State shot 13-16 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, keeping them out in front.
“Just what the doctor ordered,” Sallee said.
Clephane not only led the Cardinals with 19 points, but she also shot 6-6 from the free throw line. While Bischoff didn’t shoot any free throws in the victory, she said having confidence from the line is easier said than done.
“It takes a lot of toughness to go up to the line and make it during clutch times like that,” Bischoff said. “So during practice we’ve been really focusing on preparedness, [and] I think that helps us and is going to help us in the tournament this year. Just get up to the line and be confident.”
Despite the loss, a pair of sophomore guards had standout performances for the RedHawks as well, with Ivy Wolf’s game-high 25 points and Maddi Cluse’s 14-point, 11-rebound double-double. Additionally, Miami had 18 offensive rebounds compared to the Cardinals four.
Sallee said he felt Ball State was soft in this aspect of the game, something it can’t afford in Cleveland.
“I told them after the game, ‘If you don't finish plays, you get sent home this time of year,’” Sallee said. “So we’ve got to understand that, [and] that’s got to be something that is a really strong focus.”
Bischoff said after losing two straight to Toledo and Bowling Green, this win helped boost the Cardinals confidence heading into the MAC Tournament.
Although Akron (17-12, 8-10 MAC) and Northern Illinois (16-13, 8-10 MAC) have the same conference record, the Huskies defeated the Zips in their lone matchup this season, making Akron the No. 6 seed. The Zips now match up against the No. 3 seed Cardinals in the fourth game of March 8's slate in the MAC Tournament in Cleveland.
Ever since losing to Buffalo 79-75 in the 2022 MAC Tournament championship game, Ball State has had a MAC Championship on its mind. Driven by the ‘Five Points Better’ mantra, much has been made of the Cardinals aspirations to hoist a trophy March 11.
“It means a lot to us to be able to go out there and win three games,” Bischoff said. “I think that we can definitely do it, we just have to play our game and just be confident.”
The winner of Ball State V. Akron advances to the second semifinal contest March 10, played 30 minutes after the first at 10 a.m.
Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KyleSmedley_.