It was perhaps lost in the stifling defense that punctuated UB's Senior Day victory over Kent State that the Bulls managed to miss all eight of their attempts from three point range in the first half. They were able to get away with it because Kent State could not compete with UB's size down low, or with the scrappy, in-your-face defense presented by the Bulls.
Today Ball State, who was torched for 36 points by Bulls forward Kristen Sharkey in the teams' earlier meeting, was able to collapse down on the UB frontcourt and capitalize on the Bulls' continued foul trouble on their way to a 74-60 victory.
UB, which was enjoying its highest-ever seed in the conference tournament, did not appear to be suffering from any rust early on, though they were unable to really establish a consistent lead over the Cardinals. Forwards Kristen Sharkey and Alexus Malone combined for 11 early points in the first ten minutes as UB fought through Ball State's collapsing defense. These successes did little for the scoreboard, though, as BSU closed multiple leads by turning up the backcourt pressure and forcing turnovers for quick points.
The turning point in the game happened about two thirds of the way through the first half, when Sharkey picked up two fouls in quick succession and Malone picked up her second shortly after. With two of their top forwards on the bench, UB was unable to maintain their advantage and, as they have in many other games, started a Ball State parade to the foul line. The Cardinals enjoyed a four point lead at the half after a frustrating final few minutes for Bulls fans.
Out of the break, things were much the same. At times the Cardinal lead ballooned to three possessions thanks to their defensive presence down low and almost no contributions from the UB backcourt. Deep into the second half, Mackenzie Loesing was the only UB guard to add to the offensive, but wasn't exactly efficient at all, taking 20 shots from the floor to get to 10 points in this one.
Midway through the half, UB was able to close the gap thanks to a flurry of three pointers from Margeaux Gupilan and Karin Moss, but never got closer than two. A Jill Morrison three with three minutes to go gave Ball State an eight point lead, and it was just a formality to run the final minutes off.
UB's offense was balanced but had no real standouts in this one. Gupilan managed 14 thanks to two consecutive three pointers in the second half, Loesing 10 but on 20 shots, and Sharkey 11 but only 3 after the first few minutes of the game. For Ball State, Nathalie Fontaine was 7-8 from the field on her way to 17 points, and Shelbie Justice got 15 on the strength of three triples herself.
This game was really all of UB's worst tendencies falling together into one 40 minute stretch:
- A lineup that was clicking and getting open looks in the first half couldn't stay on the floor while foul trouble added up.
- Ball State cut through Buffalo's great perimeter defense and scored a ton of points from beyond the arc.
- UB couldn't get any lucky bounces that might spark a run, especially in the second half as they fought to close the lead
- Even though Mackenzie Loesing got 'volume' points, the guards were unable to help take pressure off the frustrated front court.