After their 95-60 loss to No. 9 Notre Dame, Ball State Women’s Basketball head coach Brady Sallee talked about what the Cardinals could take away from a blowout like that, saying he schedules tough opponents such as the Fighting Irish for a reason. Although the Cardinals boarded the bus back to Muncie, Ind. from South Bend as losers, Sallee said they were a better team for having played in that game.
Sallee said the Cardinals would learn a lot from that loss, and in the six games that have followed, Ball State has looked like a completely different team. Whether it be blowout wins over programs such as Utah State and Saint Louis, or tightly contested victories against the likes of Brigham Young University (BYU), Western Kentucky and IUPUI, the Cardinals haven’t looked back since that snowy afternoon at Notre Dame.
With aspirations of making the NCAA Tournament, Ball State (8-2) earned its toughest victory yet as they defeated Power-5 opponent Pitt (6-4) 68-66 in overtime on the road. Per usual, Sallee stayed level-headed as he reflected on the victory.
“This game is only as big as what we do with it,” Sallee said.
From the opening tip-off, it was clear this would be a game of runs. Pitt went on a 12-2 streak to start the first quarter, but momentum drastically changed as Ball State responded with a 14-0 run to close out the first quarter and put themselves in the lead.
“The first timeout of the first quarter we got ripped,” Becki said. “We knew we were a lot better than what we were playing, and so we were just able to dig down deep and know that we have to come out with this win and just send a message to people that we are more than a mid-major basketball team.”
Throughout the rest of the game, each team went on multiple 6-0, 8-0, etc. runs, ensuring momentum wasn’t often shared.
“You got to have an understanding of the way games are being played and the way games are happening,” Sallee said. “You can't get butthurt when they don't go exactly like you drew ‘em up. That was clearly a game where we could put together a bunch of points in a row, and the whole game I felt like we could get just about any shot we wanted to.”
Although this contest went to overtime, there were only five lead changes as the Cardinals held the lead for over 27 minutes.
“We just kept punching and understanding what it took to win, and understanding that complete grind of what it was gonna take to win,” Sallee said. “It was apropos that it came down to a defensive stop to win that game.”
As the game was broadcast on the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Network, Sallee told officials beforehand if the Cardinals could hit at least 10 threes and keep the rebounding numbers close, he felt Ball State had a great chance to win. In the end, Sallee’s words turned out to be almost prophetic, as the Cardinals hit 10 3-pointers and were out-rebounded 50-45.
As for the 3-pointer, grad student Thelma Dis Agustsdottir once again led Ball State with four, going towards her total of 14 points. Sophomore Ally Becki led the Cardinals with 12 rebounds, with her 10 points giving her a second straight double-double. Contributing most to the Panthers victory on the boards was senior forward Amber Brown, who grabbed 17 rebounds in addition to her 20 points.
The biggest rebound of the afternoon came courtesy of redshirt senior Anna Clephane, who grabbed a missed shot by Brown with less than five seconds to go in overtime to seal the victory. Sallee said although it’s tough to defend players such as Brown or junior forward Liatu King (19 points), the Cardinals’ victory showed what Ball State was capable of defensively.
“Here's the beauty of it: in our last time out, going out to finish the seven seconds of overtime, the majority of the time out I talked to them about ‘five points better’ and how we've been working for this moment all summer,” Sallee said. “The belief that we had to have in our ability to get a stop in there, and I think that's the difference and that's a chance for our group to be different this year.”
For Ball State, their leading scorer came off the bench in the form of Alex Richard who had 18 points. The sophomore said she knows she has to provide a boost of energy and a spark to the team in any capacity, whether that be off the bench or in the closing moments of a game.
Richard said before embarking on this six-game winning streak, the Cardinals’ mindset had to change.
“I think we all had to buy-in, and we fell in love with winning,” Richard said.
She said the Cardinals knew they were going to win the game thanks to their preparation beforehand, ability to execute what was asked of them and confidence in those around them. Becki added to that, saying the bond between teammates translates to on-court success.
“Especially during those close games, we just have to trust each other and just be able to know that we've got each other's backs,” Becki said. “[We earned] A big win today [by] not letting them come back and try to take over, and [by] going on their court and competing harder.”
Richard talked about the morale of the Cardinals in the midst of their winning streak, underlining the importance of having a tight-knit locker room as it pertains to team chemistry on the court, and ensuring although they are excited about their win over the Panthers, the Cardinals remain focused on the next game.
“We're always dancing, we're singing, we always get super hype before, we're excited [and] we love each other,” Richard said. “We get ice cream every away game that we win and so we went to Coldstone (Creamery) so we're happy, we're smiling and we're ready to work again for the next game.”
The Cardinals return to action Monday, Dec. 19 at 2 p.m. ET as they take on Tarleton State (5-3) in their first of two games in the Puerto Rico Classic.