At this point a year ago, Ball State owned a record of 7-18 and had just recently come off of a 97-58 loss at home to Buffalo.
That was the most points that their defense allowed in a single game last season. This year, Ball State has only allowed over 90 points to be scored by an opponent one time this season. The new-found success for Ball State is not a new coaching style, it’s the players.
“I think every year is different,” head coach Brady Sallee said. “Every single year you start with an idea on how you are going to build a team and try to get it to reach its potential at the right time. This year that is exactly what we did.”
Ball State only won three conference games all season last year, but this season they have already tripled that and are looking to do more. This year, Ball State has now beaten eight opponents that they fell to last season.
One of the Cardinals focuses this season has been playing together. They are able to achieve this by lifting each other up and encouraging each other to do their best when they’re on the court.
“The amount of character that we have in the locker room, the genuineness and the true caring that they have for each other,” Sallee said. “All you have to do is watch our bench when somebody does something well. It comes unglued, that is how much they care about each other’s success.”
Ball State already has seven more wins in conference play than they did for the entirety of last season. The Cardinals have picked up the defensive effort as well that has helped them be successful. While this season has been more successful in terms of winning, the difference in team chemistry has not gone unnoticed.
“For us, it’s kind of business as usual, but there’s a difference in our business as usual,” Sallee said. “Somewhere along the way, this team decided to connect personally and really focus on becoming a team, at a high level.”
Communication is something that Ball State has been able to do well. Communicating on the floor is something that junior forward Oshlynn Brown thinks they do really well.
“I think we communicate really well, compared from last year now,” Brown said. “I feel like that is why we are number one on defense in the conference.”
Most teams set out goals out at the beginning of the season to win the championship and to be the best team in the country. For this team, the goals for this season are a little different.
When the Cardinals had a meeting at the beginning of the season to set out goals, the meeting was fast. The team hadn’t talked about goals to tell coach Sallee what ones they had for the season. Eventually, they came together and wrote down goals on a piece of paper. They folded it up and left it on Sallee’s desk, but he hasn’t revisited it and he thinks that is a good thing.
“We’ve never had a follow-up meeting and that sheet of paper has sat on my desk and we’ve never revisited it,” Sallee said. “Right now I think it is good that we didn’t because it might have put a ceiling on us, and I just don’t think this team has one.”
The Cardinals continue to be the best team that they can be, both in basketball and has teammates. Something that coach Sallee has said all season long is that it isn’t about who scores, but about how it is done and the execution.
“The goals and all that stuff I think will be written at the end of the season,” Sallee said. “In 15 years from now when they come back as a team, they will want to come back because of how much they care about each other. They won’t come back because of winning, but because of how much they care about each other and that is so much bigger and that is what has gotten us to here.”
Contact Grant Covey with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @grant_covey.