The Ball State Cardinals (18-2, 8-0 MAC) stayed unbeaten in Mid-American Conference (MAC) play Saturday afternoon, tying their best start in conference play since 2001. They defeated the Eastern Michigan Eagles (5-13, 2-6 MAC) by a score of 75-50, capping off what head coach Brady Sallee called a “challenging” week.
After the win against Toledo Sunday night, Ball State handled Miami (OH) Jan. 24. Saturday afternoon ended up being their third game in a span of six days. Because the win against the Rockets was an important one emotionally, Sallee said knew his team would embrace the task at hand.
“We all know we’ve got a good team, but they just keep proving it in different ways,” Sallee said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
The Eagles were ready for the Cardinals in the beginning, as they hung around for most of the first half. In fact, Eastern Michigan held an 18-15 advantage early in the second quarter.
It ended up being their only lead of the game.
Junior Ally Becki hit a step-back jumper at the top of the key to tie the game up, and two minutes later, she hit another one (also a step-back) to extend the Ball State lead. Becki has used that crafty move multiple times this season to create space for a 3-point shot, and Saturday was no different.
“It’s more of a rhythm shot for me. I’m not really a catch-and-shoot type of person so anything off the bounce gets me in rhythm,” Becki said.
Ball State held a nine point lead heading into the locker room, but with 2:47 left in the third, Eastern Michigan junior Tayra Eke grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out for a 3-pointer that cut the Cardinals’ lead to just six.
Ball State pushed the lead back up to 10 to end the quarter.
“I thought we were really good defensively and locked in most of the game,” Sallee said. “When you can do that, and when that run comes, you now have a real ability to stretch (the lead) out to 20.”
That “run” started with the chemistry between Becki and junior Marie Kiefer.
Usually, when Ball State runs their pick-and-roll offense, Becki is the ball handler with either junior Alex Richard or Senior Annie Rauch setting the screens. In the second half of Saturday’s game, Sallee assigned Kiefer to start setting the screens, which resulted in multiple open layups for her.
With 9:29 left in the game and the Cardinals up by 10, Becki found Kiefer for one of those pick-and-roll layups. After an Eastern Michigan 3-pointer, Becki answered with one of her own to put Ball State back up by 12.
A few possessions later, they went back to the pick-and-roll. This time, help defense came from the opposite side of the floor to defend a potential pass to Kiefer diving to the rim. Instead, Becki threw a skip pass to wide-open senior Estel Puiggros for a 3-pointer, extending the lead to 17 points and forcing an Eagle timeout, essentially putting the game out of reach.
“For them to sag off and help from the other side (on Kiefer), I saw it opened other people for shots,” Becki said. “She draws two people so someone else is open.”
“That’s how Ally affects the game without scoring,” Sallee said. “When she does score it like she did today, I mean, she’s the best player in the league when she’s playing like that I think.”
Kiefer’s presence Saturday mattered for Ball State. Eke leads the MAC in blocks per game (2.3) and also averages 7.3 rebounds per game. Kiefer was able to pull down rebounds and only committed two personal fouls, her second consecutive game under her average number of fouls per game (3).
“She (Kiefer) is a matchup nightmare for other teams because of her size, her length and her agility,” Sallee said.
Sallee said he was “impressed” with the way Ball State was able to rebound the basketball. On the season they are averaging one less rebound than their opponents per game. Saturday, they outrebounded the Eagles by six.
“We have a little bit of toughness on our team too,” Sallee said.
The Cardinals return to action Jan. 31 when they host Kent State with tip-off scheduled for 6:30 p.m.