The Ball State Cardinals were down by as much as 17 points in the first half on Wednesday against Northern Illinois in a quarterfinal match-up. Tomorrow morning, they’ll play for the Mid-American Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, thanks to a stunning 71-66 semifinal win over #1 seed Toledo Rockets on Friday morning in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Cardinals scored the first seven points of the game and held the lead for almost the entire game. The Rockets only held the lead once, for just 15 seconds, at 22-21 in the second quarter. Ball State would outscore the Rockets 18-3 the rest of the quarter to take a 39-25 lead into halftime.
You knew the Rockets would make a run in the second half, but the question was when.
Ball State opened heir biggest lead of the game in the third quarter at 48-31 with 5:08 to play. The Rockets began to make the expected run and got the lead down to 51-46 by the end of the third quarter. The Rockets went to a full court press and got the lead down to two at 63-61 with just 1:03 to play.
The Cardinals hit some clutch free throws in the last minute, including five from freshman Ally Becki. The Rockets couldn’t put up much of a fight after that, having spent most all their energy trying to bridge the gap Ball State established. The Cardinals didn’t leave unbruised, though, with three players each earning four fouls, and they lost a valuable bench player due to an injury in the second quarter.
Sydney Freeman led the Cardinals in scoring with 19 points, while Becki and Marie Kiefer both added 12. Sophia Wiard had 16 points to lead the Rockets,and Quinesha Lockett added 14. Ball State shot 47 percent from the field for the game and were 16-21 from the free throw line.
Ball State improves to 20-11 on the year and advances to the MAC Championship game tomorrow versus the winner of the Buffalo/Akron semifinal later Friday afternoon. Toledo drops to 26-5 on the year and will wait to learn where they’ll be playing postseason basketball. As regular-season champion, they will likely qualify for the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.