In last season’s Mid-American Conference tournament, the Bowling Green Falcons knocked off the Ball State Cardinals to keep them from getting an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
Saturday, Ball State (14-2, 4-0 MAC) flipped the script in the rematch with the Falcons (9-4, 3-1 MAC) in a dominating performance from start to finish.
Here are three takeaways from Ball State’s 76-61 win.
Point of emphasis
In the first half of Wednesday’s comeback win against Buffalo, the Cardinals shot 24 3-pointers, with 12 in each quarter. While they made eight of them, the inconsistency from downtown at times contributed to Ball State getting down by 18 points.
Saturday, the Cardinals had a sense of urgency to score in a different way in the first period by getting to the hoop, drawing contact, and converting on free throws.
Ball State got to the charity stripe 11 times in the first 10 minutes, making all but one of their attempts. During the period, they went 2-for-5 (40 percent) from 3-point land. They were efficient and selective with their shots.
The emphasis to attack the rim to set up open looks allowed the Cardinals to shoot just under 50 percent from the field in the first half with eight different players getting into the scoring column.
2nd quarter run (again)
For the second straight game, the second quarter was a place of comfort for Ball State. Wednesday, they outscored the Bulls 24-10 in the period to get back into the game.
Saturday, the Cardinals held the Falcons to just five points in the second stanza, shooting just 2-for-12 (16 percent) from the field.
It was mostly due to the six turnovers the Cardinals created due to their full-court pressure. When they did force Bowling Green into giving the ball up, they converted on their opportunities. Ball State had 13 of their 18 points in the quarter off of turnovers including seven fastbreak points.
When Ball State was unable to convert on their first looks in their half-court offense, they kept possessions alive thanks to five offensive rebounds. They pulled down defensive boards to end Falcon possessions as well. The Cardinals outrebounded Bowling Green 13-7 in the quarter.
The quarter ended with junior Ally Becki crossing over to her left at the top of the key, driving and kicking to junior Madelyn Bischoff for a wide-open 3-pointer that found the bottom of the net as the halftime horn sounded. The shot capped off an 18-5 quarter for Ball State.
Ball State Bench
Throughout this year, Ball State has had inconsistent bench play. That’s not to say it has been poor, but more to say that it can be anyone in any given game who steps up and contributes.
Fifth-year Annie Rauch had big games against Troy and Akron this year. Senior Estel Puiggros had double-digit points against Western Kentucky and Western Michigan. Sophomore Hana Mühl went 4-for-6 from the field against UConn.
Saturday, it all came together as the Ball State bench outscored Bowling Green 29-to-3.
Rauch got the call off of the bench early in the game as junior Marie Kiefer was once again in foul trouble. All three of her first half rebounds were offensive, giving her teammates another chance to score. Rauch herself finished with nine nine points with three of them coming from the line.
Coming into the game, Mühl hadn’t scored since the last game of 2023 against Oakland City. Saturday, she hit two 3-pointers and added a left-handed scoop layup to help her earn her highest point total since the UConn game.
Puiggros brought it on both ends of the floor. She led the bench with 12 points in 12 minutes. Three was the magic number for Puigross as she went 3-for-4 (75 percent) from 3-point land with three assists and three steals.
After arguably their best performance of the season so far, Ball State will look to stay undefeated in conference play Wednesday against Central Michigan with tip-off coming at 11 a.m.