As pigeons circled the rafters of the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, junior forward Addie Budnik sank a 3-pointer, giving Richmond Women’s Basketball a 75-73 lead with two seconds left in regulation.
Ball State’s head coach Brady Sallee followed with a timeout, then the Spiders’ head coach Aaron Roussell did the same. After the in-bound, Ball State sophomore Alex Richard missed a two-point try that would have sent the game to overtime, ending the Cardinals’ winning streak at seven games.
“It’s heart-breaking right now, but there’s no doubt you’re better because you come down and challenge yourself like this,” Sallee said.
One month to the day after their most-recent loss (to No. 5 Notre Dame), Ball State’s trip to the Puerto Rico Classic ended the same way. Yet, Sallee, sophomore Ally Becki and redshirt senior Anna Clephane each made a point to say this contest showed how much heart the Cardinals (9-3) have.
At halftime, Ball State trailed 46-34. Richmond (9-3) was shooting 66 percent from the field, 67 from the 3-point line and junior guard Siobhan Ryan had 19 points on 7-8 shooting from the field and 5-6 shooting from the 3-point line. Not only that, but the Spiders had forced 10 turnovers (scoring 15 points off of them), as many as Ball State had in the entirety of their 80-77 overtime victory over Tarleton State (6-4) the day previous.
Rather than a spirited conversation in the Cardinals’ locker room at halftime, the coaching staff simply discussed how Ball State needed to make defensive and toughness-based adjustments. A 15-0 run to start the third quarter made it evident the Cardinals were listening.
“We were getting the shots we wanted [and] they just weren’t falling, so we just had to guard our yard and know our personnel and just dig deep on defense, box out and get rebounds and know who's a shooter,” Becki said. “Once we were able to knock down our shots, that kind of got our defense going as well.”
Clephane, who finished the game with 12 points, said one of the Cardinals’ best traits is their ability to make the necessary adjustments to keep them in games.
“I think that you can see it kind of play a role in all of our games,” Clephane said. “We’re able to look at what we need to fix and actually execute, and that just says a lot about our focus and our willingness to do what we have to do to get a win. Even though that wasn't the end result today, I think we put ourselves in a good position to get a win.”
Ball State’s 22-5 third quarter made it 56-51 in their favor heading into the fourth. Throughout the entire game, there were nine ties and 15 lead changes, as Sallee called the contest an “absolute battle”.
Becki, who had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, said the game got difficult down the stretch, especially after their overtime victory the day prior. In that aspect, Richmond had the advantage, as this was their first game of the tournament, however, Becki said she was able to persevere through her teammates.
“We have a special team, and for them to be encouraging even though they see some of our players down or tired is very cool to see,” Becki said.
In the second half, the Cardinals cut their turnovers in half, only putting the ball in the Spiders’ hands five times, and were able to emerge victorious in the turnover battle overall, as they forced 17 total. Ball State also led in rebounding 26-23, but even leading in two stat categories that have been a priority for the Cardinals all season wasn’t enough.
Richmond ended the game shooting 55 percent from the field and 54 percent from the 3-point line, while Ball State finished shooting 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from the 3-point line. Although the Cardinals had three players in double figures, including Becki and graduate student Thelma Dis Agustsdottir (five 3-pointers) who each led Ball State with 17 points, the Spiders’ Ryan dropped 27 points on 10-13 shooting from the field and 7-9 shooting from the 3-point line.
“One shot is a little bit different and we're feeling like a million bucks,” Sallee said. “I always say this, ‘The outcome doesn't necessarily change the way you played the game.’ I'm awfully proud of the way we played the game.”
The 11th year head coach said playing two games back-to-back in a tournament-like environment “mimics” the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament. Becki and Clephane each said playing in this mini-tournament will help the Cardinals know how to prepare and recover well for March.
“It's a whole different ball game when it's no one's home court, and I feel like there's just a lot more heart that has to go into it,” Clephane said. “...I think that it's really important going into MAC play because we're going to have to play game after game after game and be able to not let fatigue set in and not let our minds get tired.”
Sallee said in practice, the Ball State coaching staff has worked to put the Cardinals in adverse situations to see how they respond and what their true colors are. He said the Puerto Rico Classic was another example of this.
“You take 12 hours of travel to get here, you take no shoot-around, [you take] the difference in venue [and] you add it all up and you see your team perform at the level they performed, as a coach, you got to be excited,” Sallee said.
The Cardinals return to action Friday, Dec. 30, in Muncie, Ind. when they take on Chicago State (0-15) at 6:30 p.m. in Ball State’s last non-conference game of the season.