Late-game lead disappears

Joe Murphy

Malika Willoughby cuts between a crowd of Western Michigan players Tuesday night. Willoughby was two rebounds short of a triple-double with 10 points and 10 assists in a 75-70 loss to Ball State Saturday.

Credit: Beth Rankin

The Flashes scored 70 points, shot 53 percent in the first-half and held Kate Endress, the Mid-American Conference’s co-leading scorer, to three first-half points on Saturday.

One problem was there are two halves in basketball.

The other problem was the Flashes (10-7, 3-3 MAC) forgot about Ball State’s Julie DeMuth.

The freshman guard had a career night as she finished with 27 points and 18 rebounds as the Cardinals (8-9, 4-2 MAC) stormed back from 17 points down in the second half to shock the Flashes, 75-70.

“It’s like we laid down today,” assistant coach Lori Bodnar said in an interview with 640-AM WHLO after the game. “What bothers us the most is no one’s stepping up and saying, ‘Let’s get this done.’ That’s going to hurt us down the road.”

The Flashes were standing tall with 14:29 left in the second half. At that point, the Flashes were enjoying a 54-37 lead after Melissa DeGrate knocked down a 3. Up to that point, Kent State played near-perfect basketball. The 41 first-half points, fueled by Tiffany LaFleur’s 10 and Kacie Vavrek’s nine, matched the Flashes’ season-high.

Coach Bob Lindsay has emphasized the importance of the first five minutes of the second half all season. The Flashes responded as they began the second half on a 13-6 run.

However, the Flashes forgot to show up for the last 15 minutes. Ball State fought back by controlling the boards, outrebounding the Flashes, 43-31. But the difference in the game came at the free-throw line.

The term “charity stripe” was fitting on Saturday, and Kent State was more than generous as it sent the Cardinals to the line 23 times in the second half, with Ball State converting 19.

Several Flashes found themselves in foul trouble from the start of the game. Sophomore center Mallorie Griffith, playing in her first game back from a concussion, saw limited playing time as she picked up two fouls early in the first half. LaFleur, Lindsay Shearer and DeGrate also were forced to play conservatively because of foul trouble. LaFleur fouled out with 6:30 left in the game, and DeGrate followed by picking up her fifth foul with 1:32 left.

At the time, the Flashes couldn’t have realized how much they would miss those two players. With LaFleur out, Kent State lost an inside presence on offense and defense. Endress and DeMuth cut to the hoop at will with LaFleur out. DeGrate’s early dismissal took away an outside shooter in a stretch where every basket counted.

“The big problem was we just got outhustled,” Bodnar said. “We let a team get to the line 31 times. We put them on the free-throw line. Endress was cutting right across our face.”

In six of seven losses this season, the Flashes have self-destructed in the last four minutes of the game and have shot the ball at about 20 percent. Saturday was no exception as the Flashes missed four layups late in the game.

A win would have put the Flashes sitting alone atop the MAC East. With the loss, the Flashes are now tied for second behind Marshall.

“We could be 6-0 in this conference,” Bodnar said. “Hopefully, this team will look at this game and say, ‘Let’s get this together.’ The brass ring is right in front of us. We just need to grasp it.”

Contact women’s basketball reporter Joe Murphy at [email protected].