For the sixth straight season, the Cardinals fell a bit short.
After an 11-0 start to the 2017-18 season that included victories over Purdue, Vanderbilt, Butler and Western Kentucky, Ball State (25-7, 13-5 MAC) made just enough errors in conference play to prevent them from an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, the season ended in the program’s sixth consecutive WNIT appearance.
However, by finishing third in the MAC, the Cardinals certainly cemented themselves in the top-tier of women’s basketball's new premier mid-major conference.
The two teams in front of them, Buffalo and Central Michigan, both made runs to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, becoming just the fourth and fifth double-digit seeds to do so, respectfully.
Ball State saw huge leaps from up-and-coming players, including freshman forward Oshlynn Brown, who led the squad off the bench and looks like an amicable replacement for senior forward Destiny Washington into the future.
“You had a lot of people step into roles and perform their tails off,” head coach Brady Sallee said after the team’s season-ending 77-72 loss to Purdue.
Junior guard Carmen Grande became the all-time assist leader for the program with a whole season still to play. Freshman guard Maliah Howard-Bass and junior guard Nakeya Penny cemented themselves in Sallee’s lineup throughout the season, and serve as further proof of the foundation he’s built for the program.
Grande finished second in the nation in assists per game, averaging 9.2 throughout the season as the leader of the Cardinals offense.
“I’m thankful [for the seniors] because we developed a good chemistry and that’s how we all made a good team this year. I’ll miss them but you gotta move on,” Grande said.
Down the stretch, bad losses to Ohio and Western Michigan doomed the Cardinals, as well as an 88-80 road loss to Central Michigan where they blew an eight point lead in the game’s final four minutes.
“All a coach can ever ask for is that a team gives you everything they got,” Sallee said. “And like I said, our tank’s on empty. I’m proud of them.”
After not hearing its name called on Selection Monday, Ball State picked up its third-ever victory in the WNIT, dispatching Middle Tennessee State 69-60 before bowing out in a rematch with Purdue in the round of 32.
In 2018-19, the Cardinals will see a majority of its scoring return, but the loss of leading scorer Moriah Monaco could be tough to absorb. Freshman forward Sarah Price looks to be the spot-up 3-point shooter that could help replace Monaco’s numbers.
“I spoke a lot to the seniors, they really meant a lot for us,” Sallee said. “The only real legacy someone can leave is how they impact people. It’s not numbers, it’s not records or accolades or banners or any of that stuff. And that group has impacted teammates, coaches, the community and even you guys. They’re just a special group of young ladies.”