In the first game of the new year, both teams looked to advance to 1-0 in 2020 and 1-0 in conference play. In a Mid-American Conference opening tilt between the Cardinals and Golden Flashes, both teams went back-and-forth as the lead would change hands 14 times. 

Ultimately, it was Ball State Women’s Basketball (9-4,1-0 MAC) that got the upper hand on Kent State (7-5, 0-1 MAC), 66-62. Using a defensive approach to the game, the Cardinals’ captured their fifth straight win and their first in conference play. The Cardinals have played in a handful of games that were decided by a couple of possessions and they knew how to come out on top.  

“Toughness, plain and simple,” head coach Brady Sallee said in a radio interview. “We showed our toughness tonight and made plays when we needed to.” 

Ball State struggled to find an offensive rhythm at the beginning of the game and saw Kent State jump out to a 10-4 lead to start the game. The Cardinals’ made the necessary adjustments during the first media timeout and went on a 12-2 run to take a 16-12 advantage after 10 minutes. The second quarter saw more back-and-forth action and Kent State outscored Ball State 14-8 and had a 26-24 advantage at the half. 

The second half for the Cardinals’ was a carbon copy of what they have been doing all season. They outscored the Golden Flashes 42-36 in the second half to give them the victory. On the season, Ball State has outscored opponents 445-378 in the second half. They did that today and were successful once again.

Ball State sophomore forward Blake Smith goes for a layup during the Cardinals' game against Western Kentucky Dec. 7, 2019, at John E. Worthen Arena. Smith scored 10 points. Paige Grider, DN

“You don’t win at this level playing on your heels and putting your foot on the brake, you go make big plays,” Sallee said. “I thought [Samz] made a bunch of them. She looked like a savvy veteran like we need her too.” 

A 5-0 run in the fourth quarter gave Ball State its largest lead at 61-54. That would be the momentum that the Cardinals’ needed to get past the Golden Flashes. Kent State would draw as close as three points in the final minutes of the game, but freshman guard Sydney Freeman made four free throws in the final 25 seconds that secured the game for Ball State. 

“That was a good start for her against a really good point guard,” Sallee said. “Every time they made a mistake on their ball screens, she made them pay. To have a freshman be that savvy and understand what it is we need her to do was pretty special to watch that today.” 

Nine players saw action for the Cardinals’ and all of them scored. Three players saw double figures and Freeman led the team in scoring with a career-high 16 points. In 31 minutes of action, Freeman went 40 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range.

Defense was a big factor today for the cardinal red and white. Ball State outrebounded Kent State by just one, 39-38. Sophomore forward Lindsey Thall had ten points at the break for Kent State. 

In the second half, she would not score, let alone attempt a field goal. The Golden Flashes only put seven players in the scorebook Saturday, and the Cardinals were able to use that to their advantage. Freshman forward Nila Blackford led Kent State in scoring with 23 points. 

The Golden Flashes made just one more field goal than the Cardinals on the afternoon, but the difference was shots from beyond the arc. Ball State shot 8-17 from deep, while Kent State shot just 4-14 from 3-point range. 

The Cardinals’ will be in action on Wednesday as they travel to take on Bowling Green, a team that they defeated last season 77-70. 

Contact Grant Covey with comments at or on Twitter @grant_covey.