Junior center Renee Bennett attempts to score a shot during the game against Buffalo on Jan. 13 in Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO GRACE RAMEY
Ball State women's basketball wins season opener on Kids' Day
Worthen Arena’s crowd was unusually energetic given Ball State women’s basketball’s 11 a.m. start time against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Fans were chanting and screaming, even as the Cardinals ran up the score in an 88-60 victory. But there was silence when Usher’s “Yeah!” came over the speakers — the 2004 song was older than the majority of the crowd.
Seven local elementary and middle schools were in attendance for Kids' Day. About 1,000 students filled out the crowd of 1,683 in the Cardinals’ season-opener — brought to you by the letter W.
Ball State starters
Moriah Monaco: 24 points, 6 rebounds
Renee Bennett: 22 points, 11 rebounds
Jill Morrison: 12 points, 3 rebounds
Carmen Grande: 9 points, 9 assists
Calyn Hosea: 3 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals
“I know all of us, from a players’ standpoint, were really excited because we’ve been in the schools with them,” senior center Renee Bennett said. “We’ve met some of them, we’ve had a really good time working with them to this point. So for them to come and support us at our first game meant a lot to us.”
Bennett recorded her third career double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 7-9 from the field. Listed at 6-foot-5-inches, she took advantage of mismatches against the Lady Lions, who don’t have a single player listed as taller than 6-foot-even.
“I think it kind of makes it easier for me to play, but even if I am playing against an opponent who is shorter than me — I mean, the girls from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, they were strong girls,” Bennett said.
She opened the game, however, outside of the paint. Just 34 seconds into the game, she took a pass from sophomore point guard Carmen Grande at the top of the 3-point arc.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s defender sagged off of Bennett, expecting a pass or a drive into the lane — after all, Bennett only attempted two three-point shots all of last season and missed both.
With plenty of space, Bennett took the shot and hit her first three-pointer since Feb. 28, 2015. The kids in the crowd went wild, and Ball State held the lead for the rest of the game.
“Just kind of happened spur of the moment,” Bennett said. “I was open and I was even joking around with some of the girls beforehand when we were shooting around, because I knocked two down. So I was like ‘I’m going to do it today, I’m going to do it.’”
Ball State ran an experienced lineup with four starters returning from last season, and the fifth, guard Calyn Hosea, is a senior who averaged 11.6 minutes per game.
“She’s somebody that in that lineup we can always put on another team’s best perimeter player, and we know we’ve got that defensive prowess with the way that she plays,” head coach Brady Sallee said. “So she brings a lot to the table.”
Junior forward Moriah Monaco led both teams with 24 points, hitting nine of her 15 shots and four of her seven three-point attempts. Senior Jill Morrison added 12 more points, and Grande finished the game with nine points and nine assists.
Much was made in the preseason about having to replace Nathalie Fontaine, the program's all-time leading scorer. But with Bennett and Monaco both putting up more than 20 points, the Cardinals are confident the questions about Fontaine will end soon.
“I think that if we keep playing the way we all can — not just me or [Bennett], next time it will be [Morrison] or somebody else putting up points like that — we can get that out of the way,” Monaco said.
Although a major part of Kids' Day was the anti-bullying messages played on the video board, Ball State pushed Arkansas-Pine Bluff around in the paint, outscoring the Lady Lions 40-22. The Cardinals also held the advantage with 44 rebounds to the Lady Lions’ 40.
It was also Ball State’s first season-opening win since Nov. 13, 2006, when the Cardinals beat Michigan on the road, 62-58.
“Hopefully 10 years from now, the record’s the other way around and it’s 10 years in a row that we’ve won game one,” Sallee said. “And you know, that’s what we’re trying to do with this program. When you have this much experience back, you’ve got four starters, you’ve got the depth that we do, you should expect to come out and play at a high level from day one, and I thought we did today.”
In its next game, Ball State hosts Evansville at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 in Worthen Arena.