"One game at a time" is an overused cliche, but it's overused for a reason.

Ball State beat Eastern Michigan 78-49 Jan. 18 and led by 44 points late in the third quarter. Given that the Cardinals are now 5-1 in Mid-American Conference play (12-6 overall) while the Eagles (5-13. 0-6 MAC) still haven't beaten a conference opponent's statistics, that's probably what should've happened.

But the same could have been said earlier in the season, when Ball State lost to Lipscomb 78-74 Dec. 18. Lipscomb entered that game with a 1-10 record, and haven't done much better since — the Bisons are now 3-15.

Game statistics vs. Eastern Michigan

Ball State shooting: (28-65) 43.1 percent

Eastern Michigan shooting: (17-58) 29.3 percent

Ball State rebounds: 45

Eastern Michigan rebounds: 37

Ball State points in paint: 38

Eastern Michigan points in paint: 18

Ball State points off turnovers: 26

Eastern Michigan points off turnovers: 7

“I think we just came into [the Eastern Michigan] game more focused and we knew that, even though their record might not be a very good one, we knew how they’re capable of playing," junior forward Moriah Monaco said. "We just knew we couldn’t take them lightly like we did to Lipscomb, and I think we learned a lot from losing that game."

Ball State jumped out to an early lead against Eastern Michigan with a 21-4 run to open the first quarter and led 46-20 at halftime.

The Cardinals held advantages in almost every statistical category. They shot 43.1 percent from the field while the Eagles only made 29.3 percent of their shots. Ball State outrebounded Eastern Michigan 45-37 and scored 26 points off of 20 Eastern Michigan turnovers. The Cardinals even had as many blocks (five) as the Eagles had assists (also five).

Monaco finished with 16 points and was 4-5 from three-point range, and senior guard Jill Morrison finished with 17 points and was 3-4 from three-point range. But it was senior center Renee Bennett that led the Cardinals in scoring, with 19 points as the Cardinals outscored the Eagles 38-18 in the paint.

“I think that we’re capable of being really a great team, because then they have to come out to us and that leaves Renee open down low," Monaco said. "Which is a big threat too with her in there, because we can get it inside to her. I don’t know how you stop that kind of offense."

But that's not what happened against Lipscomb, when Ball State was outrebounded 41-28 — an odd statistic considering the Cardinals are second in the MAC with a plus-4.5 average rebounding margin.

Back then, head coach Brady Sallee gave Lipscomb all of the credit, but in the week leading up to Eastern Michigan he was still about how his team would prepare — at least until he saw how serious they were.

"We came in on the holiday on Martin Luther King Day — and you always worry about 'did they lay around in bed all day?'" Sallee said. "They got up and lifted, then they came to practice and they were ready to go. The energy was really high, and then on [Jan. 17] the energy was even higher, to the point where I had to call them in and bring it down a notch because we were getting a little squirrelly with how ready to go we were."

As to be expected from the team that leads the MAC with 18.1 assists per game, Ball State recorded 24 assists against Eastern Michigan. The surprise was that sophomore point guard Carmen Grande, who leads the MAC with 7.9 assists per game, only had three. She was limited to 16 minutes because of early foul trouble and the massive lead, well below her season average of 31.6 minutes.

"I thought we played really well without me," Grande deadpanned.

Senior guard Calyn Hosea stepped up to run the point with Grande on the bench. Hosea finished with 5 assists, tied with Morrison for the team lead. Junior guard Frannie Frazier also recorded four assists.

"We moved the ball the way we do in practice," Sallee said. "Whether it’s Carmen that’s moving it or it’s anybody else, we just have an identity we’ve been playing to here of late, and it’s about ball movement.”

In practice, they also talked about winning one game at a time. However, Ball State has a tangible example of overlooking a supposedly overmatched opponent.

“Yeah, we talked about Lipscomb," Sallee said. "We talked about the approach, and again, like [Monaco] said, they learned a tough lesson. But the important thing is, they learned the lesson.”