The University of Iowa women’s basketball team’s comeback bid fell short in a 77-72 loss to Ball State on Thursday night in the opening round of the WNIT.
The Hawkeyes trailed by as many as 16 points early in the third quarter and by 13 (59-46) with 1:24 left before building some momentum with the quarter’s final five points. Freshman Megan Gustafson’s layup cut the lead to 11 and sophomore Whitney Jennings hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to get Iowa to within single digits at 59-51.
Iowa continued its surge into the fourth quarter, using back-to-back Tania Davis field goals, including a 3-pointer with 8:55 left, to close the gap to 59-56. A Chase Coley jumper pulled the Hawkeyes to within 64-62 with seven minutes to play.
After Ball State’s Nathalie Fontaine’s layup pushed the lead to four, Iowa missed four field goals in a three minute stretch before BSU’s Moriah Monaco drained a 3-pointer to give the Cardinals a 69-62 lead with 2 1/2 minutes remaining.
Senior Ally Disterhoft kept Iowa’s hopes alive with a three-point play to cut the lead to four with 2:21 left and Davis followed with two free throws to close the gap to 69-67 with 1:44 remaining.
Ball State’s Renee Bennett answered with a layup with 1:21 left and the lead was five with 1:08 to play. Disterhoft connected on a 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining to make the score 72-70, and the Hawkeyes forced a miss, but Jennings’ field goal with 26 seconds left didn’t fall, and the Cardinals hit 5-of-6 free throws to secure the victory.
The Cardinals jumped out to an 18-10 lead in the first seven minutes before Iowa closed the gap to 18-16 at the break. Ball State took control in the second quarter, outscoring the Hawkeyes, 22-12.
“The second quarter got away from us,” said UI head coach Lisa Bluder. “We had too many turnovers; they shot more free throws, and out-rebounded us. They took it at us in almost every facet of the game.”
Iowa finished with a 42.6 field goal percentage; Ball State shot 42.9 percent. The Cardinals made 5-of-12 3-pointers, four coming in the first half, and finished 18-of-24 from the free throw stripe. Iowa was 7-of-18 from 3-point range and 13-of-19 from the free throw line.
The Hawkeyes committed just two more turnovers (12-10), but Ball State turned the Iowa miscues into 15 points.
Fontaine was the difference in the game. The Mid-American Conference Player of the Year finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds, making 10-of-24 field goals. Monaco and Grande had 16 points apiece.
“Nathalie is an unbelievable player,” said Bluder. “She didn’t want her senior year to come to a close, and that’s what great seniors do. They put their team on their back and carry the team. She wanted the ball in her hands.”
Iowa had four players finish in double figures with Gustafson leading the way with 22 points and 12 rebounds for her ninth double-double of the season. She made 9-of-15 field goals and eight of her rebounds came on the offensive glass.
Disterhoft finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, and six assists, while Jennings and Davis had 13 and 12 points, respectively.
“I don’t think we respected Ball State enough,” said Bluder. “I am not sure that mentally they knew how good Ball State was, and we were worried about this game as coaches. We thought this was going to be a real challenge tonight.”
Iowa finishes the 2015-16 season with a 19-14 overall record.
“There were some ups during the season, but it’s not something we look back on fondly,” said Disterhoft. “We’re going to have to turn it around this offseason. We have some good recruits coming in and we have talent on this team, but we didn’t show it this year, and that’s disappointing.
“There is no reason why we can’t work this offseason, bond with the incoming freshmen and become one of the top teams in the Big Ten next season.”