“I don’t think we can get any more confident,”
Head coach Brady Sallee said after Ball State Women’s Basketball (20-8, 12-4 MAC) knocked off the top-ranked team in the Mid-American Conference Central Michigan (22-5, 15-1 MAC) 67-62.
Usually, a team would be more motivated and assured after beating an undefeated in league play team that they haven’t in the last five meeting but that was not the case for the Cardinals.
“I’m not saying it in a way that we think we are all that manner, but I think they just feel really good about what they are doing and I think they go into every game knowing they can win,” Salle said. “I told them in the locker room this really doesn’t mean a whole lot unless we follow it up Monday with a great practice…and play every game like it’s the biggest on our schedule.”
The Cardinals deserve to be very confident with the way that they have played this season, as they have continued to show that they a serious threat in the MAC. However, that positive attitude didn’t come from a single game, it was built through trust and hard work.
“When it comes to confidence, we’re there and we’ve been there,” Sallee said. “That’s the fun part with this group because I don’t have to convince them that we can go win…they just do it.”
Ball State has continued to add to their accomplishments this year, as they finished 9-0 at home in conference play for the first time in program history and Sallee became the first coach for the Cardinals to have four 20-win seasons.
There were 1,812 people in attendance at Worthen Arena, as Cardinal fans celebrated the three Ball State seniors, forward Aliyah Walker, guard Arbrie “Deuce” Benson and guard Jasmin Samz. In return, the Cardinals and Chippewas rewarded them with an exciting basketball game all the way to the finish.
“The crowd that came out to support this team, got into the game and it really made a difference for us,” Sallee said.
The Cardinals stuck to their identity in the first half and showed why they are ranked first in multiple defensive categories in the Mid-American Conference.
Their defense was tight from the get-go hardly giving Central Michigan any room to maneuver. It led to the Chippewas having to take tough contested long 2-point shots, 3-pointers and throw risky passes, which caused the best offensive team in the MAC statistically to struggle.
“We were good with the plan,” Sallee said “We had three plans that we practiced and I thought that our kids were tremendous with it…We did a really good job of continuously staying matched up.”
It really showed in the first frame, as they only made 2-of-15 from the field, committed four team turnovers and was scoreless for the final 4:35.
Central Michigan picked it up in the second quarter to some extent, but still ended the half shooting just 27.3 percent from the field and they had eight turnovers.
The Ball State offense was no slouch in the first half either, freshman guard Sydney Freeman was making it rain from deep as she made all three of her attempts from behind the arc and had 13 points in the half.
Central Michigan would not go away throughout the contest and kept clawing back, as Ball State controlled the lead for 29:38 of the game. The Chippewas started to find some rhythm offensively in the third quarter and heading into the fourth they started to close that small gap.
Central Michigan took its first lead since the beginning of the first quarter, with 3:40 left in the game. They found themselves in the driver’s seat as just 2:06 remained.
“I remember looking at the clock and there was like two something left and they just hit a 3 and I think we came down and answered with one and I said ‘this is how it’s going to be,’” Sallee said. “All I was thinking at that point was just put them in a position to trust them and let them win the game.”
Ultimately, that’s what Ball State did as they showed resilience and after back-to-back 3-point shots by sophomore forward Thelma Dis Agustsdottir and Freeman the Cardinals took the lead back.
“There’s not enough words that describe the big plays that had to be made in that game,” Sallee said. “It was just one of those games where I think our kids leaned on the experience that they built this year and you saw it play out in a big-time basketball game.”
In the final seconds, Samz was sent to the free-throw line to ice the game as she only needed one more point for her 1,000th career bucket and she cashed in and it marked a 10-0 run at the end.
“I missed that first one [free throw] and was like ‘Oh crap, I have to make one because it has to be a two-possession game’ and it went in and it came out of my hand and the pressure was off and I don’t have to worry about it [1,000 career point] anymore,” Samz said. “People have asked me all week about 1,000 points and I’ve told every single one of them that it doesn’t really matter as long as we win.”
Overall, the Cardinals defense was key, as it has been throughout this season and it helped them get the job done when it mattered the most.
“To hold them to just 33 percent and 21 percent from the 3-point line is unheard of and I thought that we were just that good defensively and really battled on the boards and made big plays when we had to,” Sallee said.
Offensively, Freeman recorded a game-high 18 points marking her career-high, dished out five assists and grabbed five rebounds. Junior forward Oshlynn Brown added 17 points and 14 rebounds and Agustsdottir put up 13.
“At first they were going under ball screens so I just popped but I mean any night anyone can go off for our team,” Freeman said.
The win for Ball State clinched a BYE for them in the MAC Tournament with two games left in the regular season. They’ll be back-in-action on Wednesday against Northern Illinois.