Brandy Woody received the inbounds pass late in the fourth quarter. She ran a few steps, and then threw the ball up the court to Katie Murphy. Murphy was by herself underneath the basket, with one defender trailing. She pumped as the Central Michigan player bit on the fake and fouled her. Murphy regained her concentration to finish the play, resulting in the and-1 opportunity.

Murphy turned back to face her team with a look of sheer exhilaration on her face. As the junior high-fived her teammates, Murphy – who has gone through two straight 4-12 conference seasons – screamed “Let’s go!”

Her play was one of many that helped Ball State beat Central Michigan, 68-61, and improve its Mid-American Conference record to 8-1, matching Murphy’s previous two seasons’ conference total.

“It’s just exciting,” she said. “It’s exciting right now. I’ve never been in this position since I’ve been here. It feels a whole heck of a lot better than the last year.”

The game was tight early, but it wasn’t due to great defense.

The two teams combined to shoot just 7-of-30 throughout the game’s first 10 minutes.

Jump-starting Ball State’s offense in the night was sophomore Shelbie Justice. Justice hit a 3-pointer just under the 10-minute mark in the first half.

“I thought for about the first 10 minutes, we were a little bit too juiced,missing a lot of layups,” Ball State coach Brady Sallee said. “We got gassed really quick. That’s usually a sign of being a little too hyped and being a little too wound up.”

Justice finished with 11 points, and shot 2-of-3 from long range.

The key to stopping Central Michigan appeared to be stopping its leading scorer going into the game, guard Crystal Bradford.

One of the players charged with stopping Bradford was Murphy. She understood the challenges that Bradford presented.

“She’s a quick player,” Murphy said. “She’s a fun player to play against.”

At that point, Sallee, sitting to her right, laughed and said, “’Fun.’ That’s an interesting word to use.”

Whether it was fun or not to defend her, Murphy and the rest of Ball State’s defense did their jobs.

Bradford was averaging 15.1 points per game heading into the battle against Ball State. Bradford still scored 12 points, but she did it by shooting just 3-of-20 from the field.

At halftime, Ball State was leading Central Michigan 27-18, and the Cardinals held Bradford scoreless to that point.

Holding onto a 10-point deficit with two minutes left in the game, Central Michigan began to intentionally foul Ball State’s players.

Sallee wasn’t surprised that Central Michigan starting fouling so early.

“You see it play out that way a lot of times,” Sallee said. “We made the big [free throws] down the stretch. We just wouldn’t let them get any closer than what they were.”

Ball State shot over 70 percent from the free-throw line.

Also helping Ball State’s offense was freshman Nathalie Fontaine. Fontaine set a new career high in scoring with 23 points.

Despite beating a strong Central Michigan team, Sallee, as usual, downplayed the significance of Thursday’s win.

“The magnitude of the win is nothing more than just winning a game right now. You’re in early February. If this game was in early March, and had the same implication, it changes a little bit,” Sallee said. “It’s just the schedule says we had to play Central Michigan today, so we went out and played them, and tried our darndest to win.”

It was a clear indication that Murphy was trying her “darndest” as she celebrated with her teammates after the and-1 play. Now that her team is tied for first place in the MAC, she finally has something to celebrate about.