Two goals by John O'Flynn in the opening 35 minutes were enough for the Grecians, who were worthy winners against a Dons side who struggled to cope with the rampant hosts in the opening 45 minutes.
The visitors improved after the break but, by then, the damage was done.
"I am really disappointed. I am not going to defend the boys, if we were unlucky to lose I would say so," Ardley said.
"Exeter were much the better team throughout the game and I have said to the players that one thing that is high on the list of every performance is the basics. The energy, the pace, the desire, one-to-one battles, we need to master them and we didn't turn up with any of it.
"The first half in particular we were so off the pace and they were twice as quick as us. They played with high energy and we didn't, they anticipated second balls we didn't, they did the rubbish side of their game and we didn't. When you do that you lose in this league, you can't win games. I don't care how good a group of players we think we have got, we can't win games without doing the basics
"They got a raised voice at half-time. We changed the tactics in the second half and we had loads of chances. But even if we had got back to 2-2 I would be saying the same things. You cannot turn up in this league thinking you don't have to do the basics."