This singular adjective is how head coach Brady Salee and junior forward Oshlynn Brown described the season so far Ball State Women’s basketball (21-10, 13-6 MAC).
While the arena was empty and the Cardinals lost their quarterfinal game of the Mid-American Conference to Eastern Michigan (16-15, 9-9 MAC) 64-63, the season as a whole isn’t empty, as there is still hope for more tournament basketball this season.
Despite the loss, Salee said he recognizes how special his team is and how much fun they are to coach, but beyond that, their individual character.
“It is everything about their character,” Salee said. “They have a great sense of humor and sometimes I can be a but if a smart-aleck sometimes and they give it right back. You love that as a coach and with the relationship with your players. They will pop in the office and not even talk about basketball.”
While Brown ended the game with just seven points, shooting 3-10 from the field, she has been a catalyst for the Cardinals all season.
Brown said the connection on the floor is what made this season so special and knowing what each other’s tendencies were, made a big difference on both sides of the floor.
“I feel like what made this team so special is how we played connected,” Brown said. “We knew what each other were best at and just getting the ball in each other’s hands. Defensively, getting stops and rebounding.”
Salee simply described his team as a breath of fresh air.
“It is a special team,” Salee said. “They kind of burst a little bit of fresh air into me again. Last year was tough, not the end of the world tough, but this group to just buy into each other and trust each other made it a blast every day.”
The Cardinals had a 52-47 lead going into the third quarter, but the Eagles found their stride shooting the ball in the fourth and Brown knows the importance of finding the shooters.
“I feel like it was really important down the stretch because we had to lock up,” Brown said. “We had to make sure they didn’t hit three-pointers and know who the shooters were and make sure they didn’t get the offensive rebound.”
This was the third time Ball State matched up against Eastern Michigan and every game ended within four points. This final matchup came down to the final seconds and Salee had an idea it was going to end that way.
The game was tied up 11 times and the lead changed 14 times and Salee is proud of the fight the team had down the stretch.
“We knew it was going to be this kind of game,” Salee said. “One possession game back and forth, tough, physical and it probably came down to them making one more play than we did. I am proud of this group and the fight and hard they played this year, and hopefully, we find out we get to keep playing.”
The first game between the two teams ended 59-54, the second game ended 61-58 and this game ended within a point. Salee said the winner could have come down to the flip of a coin.
“I could have written the script,” Salee said. “I could have almost told you exactly what the score was going to be and you would have had to flip a coin on who was going to have the lead down the stretch.”
The Eagles were led by Areanna Combs who scored 23 points followed by Courtnie Lewis with 20. Freshman guard Sydney Freeman and the rest of the team described the game as a dog fight down the wire. Freeman led the Cardinals with 17 points on 5-9 from three. She was followed by graduate guard Jasmin Samz scoring 11. Freeman went in with the same mentality as every other game.
“Coach Brady told us it was going to be a dog fight,” Freeman said. “We knew that coming in because the past two games against them were the same so we just had to treat it with the same mentality.”
The Eagles were able to capitalize on 16 Ball State turnovers, turning those into 16 points. Eastern Michigan also won the points in the paint 32-26.
“[Eastern Michigan] is .500,” Salee said. “This league is stupid good if that team is .500. There are a lot of leagues where if you get a team under .500, you feel good. Not with Eastern because they have some dogs over there.”
Brown, who is a junior, has been in this situation before and will know what to expect going into her senior year and is just going to look to reset.
“Freshman year coming in, I had no idea what to expect,” Brown said. “Coming out and losing that time, I had no idea how to handle and I was sad. Having past experience and going through it again, I know how to reset.”
Part of the connection Salee was talking about stemmed from being down five late in the game and still giving them a chance to win.
“We were connected this season,” Salee said. “I mean late in this game we were down five, but we still gave ourselves a chance to win and I don’t think there was anybody out there that didn’t believe we were going to make that final shot.”