MUNCIE, Ind. - In a game where every possession mattered in the second half, the University of Toledo women's basketball team made a few crucial errors down the stretch that proved to be the difference in a 73-69 loss at Ball State yesterday.
Playing without injured seniors Allie Clifton (foot) and Lisa Johnson (shoulder), the Rockets fought back from an early 10-point deficit and led by two after Tanika Mays converted a pair of free throws with 3:43 remaining.
But the Cardinals went on an 8-2 run from there to seize control of the contest and hand UT its first Mid-American Conference loss.
"Yeah, this is a pretty hard loss, but I feel like we did it to ourselves," said Mays, who led UT with 20 points - her third consecutive game with at least that many.
"We had a whole lot of missed rebounds. We made some turnovers. We weren't hitting shots. It was just us. I felt like we got frustrated and just let the game go."
A triple from the left arc by Audrey McDonald (20 points) gave the Cardinals a 59-58 lead with
3:32 to play.
After Mays' bucket on the ensuing possession, Ball State would drain another 3-pointer from the left arc - this one by Emily Maggert to give the Cardinals a 62-60 lead with 2:22 remaining.
Melissa Goodall then missed on a lay-up attempt, and Ty'Ronda Benning (18 points) followed with a jumper in the lane to put the Cardinals (9-8, 3-1) ahead by four with 1:22 left.
"They caught us asleep a couple times on defense and they exposed us a little bit," said Goodall, who had 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
"They got some easy points that they shouldn't have gotten, and then we weren't getting some of the shots that we needed to fall."
Still, the Rockets (13-4, 3-1) had a chance to tie the game with less than 25 seconds to go.
Trailing 70-67 after McDonald's two freebies, UT ran a set piece for Jessica Williams, but her 3-point try from the left arc came up short.
Benning and McDonald then closed it out at the free throw line for Ball State.
"The unfortunate thing is, it came down to the wire and you can't let that happen on the road," UT coach Tricia Cullop said.
"But you know what, we'll be better for it. If we're going to learn a lesson, I'd rather learn it early in MAC play than later."
The lead changed hands six times and was tied three times in the final 20 minutes, but it was the Cardinals who made enough plays when it counted.
"It was back and forth the whole time," Goodall said. "We would score, and they would tie it up. They would score, and we would tie it up.
"Ball State is always a tough game for us, especially on the road."
Maggert paced the Cardinals with 24 points and 13 rebounds, getting it done on the inside with several buckets in the paint while also draining all four of her 3-point attempts.
Naama Shafir scored 15 second-half points to keep the Rockets in it, while Clare Aubry sparked them early on with 10 first-half points.
As for how much the Rockets missed two of their senior leaders in crunch time, Goodall admitted there was clearly a void on the court.
"We definitely needed them," Goodall said. "We missed having that extra person to be able to step up when we needed them to."
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