WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Williams battling back onto the court
Sophomore puts ankle injury behind her to return to play
With the clock stopped at 12:58 in the first half of Ball State's game against Akron on Saturday, the referees signaled for the substitutes to enter the game.
After suffering a sprained ankle 12 days earlier, freshman forward Neschelle Williams emerged from the Cardinals' bench, took off her warm-up clothes and was introduced by public address announcer Chad Niccum.
It took only five seconds for Williams to make an impact. She sprinted to the basket and snagged a rebound. The play provided a spark of energy for the Cardinals.
Ball State quickly pushed the ball up the court into the offensive zone on their following possession. Williams received the ball in the paint, pivoted and attempted to bank it off the glass. The shot missed, but her effort allowed teammate sophomore forward Jazmin Hitchens to convert the shot.
While making her presence felt on the boards, Williams was given the responsibility of containing Akron's second leading scorer, sophomore forward Sina King, who averages 12 points per game. Williams did just that. After King tallied a 10-point first half, Williams held her in check in the second half, allowing King to record just six points.
Despite it being the first time seeing live action in the last three games, Williams scored a career-high six points while going a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
Her effort wasn't enough for Ball State to overcome a 12-point halftime deficit, as Akron came away with a 78-70 victory.
Though the Cardinals couldn't get the win, Williams said it was a relief to be back with her team.
"It's a really good feeling," Williams said, following the game. "I just wanted to get back on the court and help my team any way I could."
The journey back into the lineup was both taxing and frustrating for Williams. When she was injured in a 76-64 loss at Western Michigan on Jan. 8, coach Kelly Packard was optimistic her young player would return within a couple of days.
"She's been getting treatment, so I am hopeful," Packard said last week of Williams' injury.
But the pain and inflammation lingered, causing Williams to miss the next three games.
Having to adapt to her new and limited role as the team cheerleader didn't bode well with Williams, but she did everything in her power to keep her teams motivated and focused.
"It was really tough," Williams said. "I tried my best to be a good cheerleader for my team, but it was tough sitting out and watching them suffer when I knew I could've helped. Overall, I was just trying to be the best cheerleader I could."
As Williams continues to strengthen her ankle and improve her durability, Packard said there is a bundle of potential waiting to be unleashed.
"You know Neschelle's been out and really [has been] limited for us at practice, which has effected her cardio a little bit," Packard said. "If we can get her fully recovered, that's what I told her when she came out [of the game], she'll really be able to help us.
"I see her ability to rebound. I see her ability to get deep paint positioning on the block, and we just need to continue to give her enough touches so that she feels really comfortable."