4 takeaways from Ball State women's basketball's MAC Tournament semifinal loss to Kent State

<p>Senior Estel Puiggros hangs her head as she watches her teammates play against Kent State March 15 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The Cardinals lost 65-50 against the Golden Eagles. Mya Cataline, DN</p>

Senior Estel Puiggros hangs her head as she watches her teammates play against Kent State March 15 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The Cardinals lost 65-50 against the Golden Eagles. Mya Cataline, DN

CLEVELAND– The Ball State Cardinals’ (28-5) dreams of making the NCAA tournament in all likelihood came to a close Wednesday afternoon at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. The Kent State Golden Flashes (20-10) dominated important statistical categories en route to their 65-50 win against the Cardinals.
Here are three takeaways from Ball State’s second consecutive loss in the Mid-American Conference tournament semifinal.

Frail first quarter

Junior Alex Richard made a layup with 7:25 left in the first quarter to give the Cardinals a three-point lead. Through the first three minutes, the pace was in Ball State’s favor as the Cardinals tried to be methodical on the offensive end and get the shot they wanted. 

After the Richard bucket, Ball State went scoreless the rest of the quarter. Of its next thirteen missed field goals, seven of them were 3-pointers. The Golden Flashes stayed up in the passing lanes, denying ball reversals to the other side of the floor. In turn, Ball State had trouble getting a shot without a defender in its face.

While Ball State’s defense was adequate in the first 10 minutes, the Cardinals’ inability to rebound hurt them. At the end of the quarter, Ball State missed 13 shots while Kent State missed 12. Yet, the Golden Flashes won the rebounding battle 17-8. 

Even more telling were the offensive rebounding numbers. Kent State had six of them which led to six second chance points, creating a 14-5 difference on the scoreboard. 

Fifth-year Katie Shuamte came into the contest as the Golden Flashes’ leading scorer, averaging 15 points per game. In the opening half, her mid range pullup was working, shooting 4-for-8 from the field for eight points and adding six rebounds. 

The rest of the game, Kent State went on to outscore Ball State by just six points. The nine-point difference at the end of the first quarter felt insurmountable the rest of the game due to how Ball State’s offense couldn’t function. 

Paint Problems


Ball State women's basketball walks to the locker after their loss to Kent State March 15 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cardinals lost in the semi-final round of the Mid-American Conference tournament. Mya Cataline, DN

With Kent State leading 33-24 at the half, both teams got a chunk of their points from behind the 3-point line. They each hit five threes, but the way they got those 3-pointers looked completely different. 

Kent State only took eight threes in the half while Ball State took 15. Junior Bridget Dunn hit three 3-pointers, surpassing her season average of seven points per game in the first 20 minutes for the Flashes. The outside game wasn’t going for Ball State, but neither was the inside.

It’s been the story of the Cardinals’ struggles all season long. When they have lost this season, they usually lose the rebounding battle. In games where Ball State gets rebounded by more than double digits, they are now 1-5.

Today, the final tally in the rebounding category was a staggering 50-to-23 in favor of Kent State. Shumate, a six-foot guard, had eight with six of them giving her team extra possessions. The 17 total offensive rebounds the Golden Flashes grabbed led to 21 second chance points. The points in the paint number was won thoroughly by Kent State 44-to-16.

Ball State did excel in limiting turnovers, finishing with just seven. On the season, the Cardinals force opponents into over 19 turnovers per game. Friday, they forced 12. 

The game in a nutshell

Richard came into the game having scored in double-digits in each of her last seven games. Late in the season, she was a spark for the Cardinal offense.

With just less than two minutes left, Richard was off the floor and Ball State found itself down 60-50. At that point, Richard was 2-for-7 from the field and had just four points. Fifth-year Annie Rauch and junior Marie Kiefer were in the game.

Kent State freshman Janae Tyler was at the free throw line after making her first attempt. The second attempt missed, but Dunn was right there for the miss. She pulled down the rebound and put a shot up that went in for an and-one conversion.

The four-point possession was the nail in the coffin on Ball State’s chances of claiming its first MAC championship since 2009. In the end, the problems that have plagued the Cardinals all season, combined with an inability to do what they do best, cost Ball State. 

What now?

In head coach Brady Sallee’s postgame press conference, he outlined different problems with the tournament selection process. He cited the way NET rankings push an agenda, how road wins a team earns should matter more and even volunteered to be a part of a committee to help fix the rankings problem he believes exists.

Ball State’s resume going into selection Sunday looks like this: 28 wins and five losses, with two of those losses to AP Top 25 programs Notre Dame and UConn. The Cardinals have have wins against Power Five opponents Pittsburgh and Georgia, along with quality wins against Toledo and James Madsion earlier this year. 

The Cardinals came into Friday’s game ranked 73rd in the NET rankings. After the loss, they will drop even more. In all likelihood, they will be on the outside looking in on the NCAA tournament once again. 

This team, which has accomplished so much this season, will have to regroup in a week’s time and play in a postseason tournament that isn’t the NCAA tournament. Conquering Cleveland was by far their most important goal all season long, which makes falling short this month and this sport the spectacle that captivates so many.  

Contact Caleb Zuver via email at cmzuver@bsu.edu or on X @zuves35.


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