A combination of offensive struggles, sloppy possessions and playing short-handed led to Ball State Women’s Basketball (0-1, 0-0 MAC) starting its 2020-21 regular season with a 67-56 loss to Milwaukee (1-0, 0-0 Horizon).
As typical in a season opener, both offenses were not up to par. Turnovers plagued both sides, with each committing 20 apiece. While neither team has played at full strength since March, head coach Brady Sallee credited the Panthers for playing with more determination and effort.
“We were not really good, and that was simply a part of it tonight,” Sallee said. “Milwaukee was tougher than us, they outrebounded us and got to the free throw line more.”
There were several stretches through the game where each team went on shooting slumps. The Cardinals suffered from a lack of scoring in two key parts of Wednesday’s game: the beginning and end. Ball State scored just 11 points in both the first and fourth quarters.
During these two quarters, Milwaukee capitalized by attacking the rim and earning trips to the charity stripe. The Panthers finished shooting 22-for-27 from the free-throw line, making up nearly 33 percent of their total points.
The Cardinals shot just 19-for-51 from the field, including 4-for-19 from beyond the arc.
When the offense was not clicking, Sallee and his team noticed it needed a spark. Midway through the second quarter, the Cardinals amped up their defensive pressure with multiple full-court presses and half-court traps.
“I thought we were playing against soft,” Sallee said. “We were trying to dig out of a hole and turn them over a little bit. I have to give credit to Milwaukee — we tried to speed them up, and they showed composure.”
However, foul trouble was a slight issue for Ball State. Junior forward Blake Smith picked up two fouls early in the first quarter, which kept her out the rest of the second half. Without her frontcourt presence, the defense lacked a rim defender, which allowed the Panthers to get easy looks at the rim.
Junior forward Thelma Dis Agustsdottir led the Cardinals in points (19) and rebounds (seven). She was the only Cardinal to play all 40 minutes of game action.
Junior guard Essence Booker, a transfer from Nevada, chipped in nine points, four assists, and four rebounds. Although she did not start the game, she played the second-most minutes on the night for Ball State (34).
Another spark came from junior guard Krystal Rice, a transfer from Johnson Community College. She made her Ball State debut in the second quarter, quickly bringing a boost of energy. She scored five consecutive points, including a 3-point play where she fought through a foul to convert a layup in transition. Rice tallied six points on the night.
Preseason First Team All-MAC selection Oshlynn Brown was a healthy scratch for the Cardinals. The senior forward led the team in scoring (13.7) and rebounds (9.8) last season. Her timetable for a return is unknown.
“We missed Osh,” Sallee said. “We have always had a ‘next man up mentality,’ so you have to be ready to perform no matter the situation.”
The Cardinals return to action Monday Nov. 30 for their home opener against IUPUI. Tipoff is 7 p.m.