Eastern Michigan University head coach Tory Verdi knew the pace of the game was being dictated by Ball State University in the Mid-American Conference home opener Thursday night.
Ball State outrebounded EMU in the first half 23-16. 17 of the 23 boards were on the defensive end.
“The opportunity for (Ball State) to get second and third chances made it harder for us to push because we were taking the ball out of the net,” Verdi said. “We have to do a better job of finding people and making contact so that we can retreat the basketball. It became a half-court game and that was what (Ball State) wanted.”
Despite taking the lead for the first time all game long in the second half, the Eagles were unable to maintain the momentum as the Cardinals won their first MAC game of the season 70-66.
EMU (11-2, 1-1 MAC) was led by Olivia Fouty, who finished with team highs in points (16) and rebounds (13) and in the process notched her sixth double-double of the season.
“Olivia is consistent every single day in practice and games,” Verdi said. “We expect a lot out of her and she continues to make things happen for us.”
Freshmen guards Janay Morton and Cha Sweeney finished with 13 points each.
Ball State’s Brittany Carter led all scorers with 18 on 5-of-14 shooting, 4-for-11 from three-point range, and 4-of-6 from the free-throw line.
Shelbie Justice chipped in with first double-double of the season as she went for 15 points and 12 rebounds.
The Cardinals (6-7, 1-1 MAC) scored the first six points of the game on back-to-back three-point makes from Carter and Nathalie Fontaine.
Moments later, Fouty‘s steal in the passing lane led to her own layup to give Eastern its first points of the game at 6-2.
Morton’s steal on the wing led to an unassisted layup to make it 6-4.
Shortly after Morton’s layup, Ball State responded with a 10-1 run highlighted by long-range baskets from Jill Morrison and Fontaine.
EMU’s deficit grew to as many as 12 until Watkins’ layup made the score 20-10.
The Cardinals would maintain the lead through the rest of the half as they went into the locker room with a 36-31 advantage over the Eagles.
EMU’s first lead of the game did not come until the 13:10 mark in the second-half when Sweeney made a three-point play to go ahead 47-44.
Both teams exchanged leads on several occasions until the Cardinals took the lead for good with a little under nine minutes left on Justice’s two made free throws.
Despite Desyree Thomas, Natachia Watkins, Sweeney, and Morton each having four fouls going in the final two minutes of regulation, EMU managed to get as close as 68-66 with less than 30 seconds left on Morton’s three-pointe make from the wing.
After Carter made both free throws to extend the lead back to four, Sweeney drove to the rim for an attempted layup but was met in the paint by multiple Ball State defenders and time would run out on a comeback for Eastern on this night.
“(Cha) was supposed to attack the basket, but we knew we could not take another timeout to make any adjustments,” Verdi said.
Watkins fouled out with 2.8 seconds remaining in regulation.
On Jan. 12, the Eagles travel to DeKalb, Ill. to take on the Northern Illinois University Huskies at the NIU Convocation Center.
The Huskies are 5-7 on the season and 1-1 in the MAC.
On Jan. 9, NIU dropped its MAC road opener to the University of Toledo, 73-71.
Junior guard Amanda Corral is the Huskies’ leading scorer (14.1 PPG).
Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. (CT)
Follow Eugene Evans on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.