“How can they do that?”
That was the question Ball State Women’s Basketball head coach Brady Sallee asked himself when he heard Thomas More University was tearing down the baseball diamond he played college baseball at. He talked about how, as a player, you never forget the smell of your home location, whether it be a diamond, a field, or in the case of the Cardinals, a court.
He said that’s why home court advantage matters in athletics, and that’s part of the reason why the Cardinals represent Worthen Arena well.
“Any basketball team that's going to have a special year wins at home,” Sallee said. “Then you got to go figure out how to be tough and steal [wins] on the road. That's something that this group understands and it shows you the kind of locker room we have, that they refuse to lose on this floor.”
After a 71-62 win over Central Michigan (3-14, 1-5 MAC), the Cardinals (15-4, 5-1 MAC) have moved to 9-0 in Muncie, Indiana, this season. Sallee said when you see how hard the players work in practice and in training outside of games, it makes the support the Cardinals are seeing at home games even better.
“I think it goes back to the pride that we have for playing here and the fans that we get, it's just a growing program on both ends,” redshirt senior Anna Clephane said. “I think it's really exciting to be able to call Worthen our home, and I love playing here every night so I think it's really important that we show everyone we appreciate them.”
While the Cardinals achieved victory over the Chippewas, it wasn’t as easy of a contest as one might’ve thought given the records of each team. Sallee, Clephane and sophomore Marie Kiefer admitted Ball State didn’t play its best basketball, but were able to eke out a win regardless.
The Cardinals gave up 17 offensive rebounds, turned the ball over 14 times and allowed 12 opposing threes (33 percent shooting). They gave up 26 points and seven rebounds to freshman guard/forward Sydney Harris and 15 points to freshman guard Bridget Utberg.
“[In MAC play], it’s just not a comfortable game ever,” Sallee said.
The 11th year head coach said he’s proud of the program Ball State has built where fans and media are wondering why they only won by nine points, but also recognizes this game will be one to learn from, as all are.
“To give up that many [offensive] boards and win is kind of an anomaly,” Sallee said. “It doesn't happen a whole lot, so we dodged a bullet there…At the end of the day, this will be good for us. It will open some eyes and we’ll understand that that kind of effort isn't going to work.”
Kiefer was busy down low against Central Michigan, grabbing eight rebounds and contributing 16 points, adding to the Cardinals high mark of 40 points in the paint. She said it was tough to stop the Chippewas from grabbing offensive boards because of their high shot volume (65 attempts), but didn’t want to use that as an excuse.
“It's a little bit of both,” Kiefer said. “They did shoot it a lot, but we also have to put in the work and go at them and rebound and that's on us.”
In the third quarter, the Chippewas shot 5-10 from the 3-point line (12-36 overall) and outscored the Cardinals 21-19. Sallee said he felt the more Central Michigan hung in the game and began to make 3-pointers, the more confidence the Chippewas gained.
However, the Cardinals locked in and were able to close out the victory. Clephane, who led the Cardinals with 19 points, said Ball State’s ability to grind out games and show grit when their game plan isn’t working how they originally thought is how they’re able to win close.
“We really had to kind of come together, and I know in a few huddles, we were just like, ‘Come on, guys, it's time to focus up now,’” Clephane said. “ [We] really just got to grind that part of it out when they go on a run so we can come back and do ours.”
Clephane didn’t come out of the game until the 1:22 mark in the fourth quarter, and Sallee said it was only because she earned her fourth foul and he didn’t want her to foul out down the stretch. It’s worth noting the redshirt senior said her previously injured knee wasn’t bothering her after essentially playing the entire game.
It’s been said by players and staff throughout the season that the Cardinals are able to dig deep and finish games, even when they’re facing adversity or not playing up to standard, but Kiefer offered her thoughts on what it is about Ball State that makes this possible.
“I think we all have the heart to go out there and if our talent isn't working, we're all just gonna put in the effort and try our hardest,” Kiefer said.
Ball State returns to action Jan. 25 at 6:30 p.m. against Akron (13-4, 4-2 MAC) in Muncie.