Compared to years past, head coach Brady Sallee said he believes the defense is better than it ever has been. The ability to take teams out of their comfort zones and be disruptive is the reason why.
“We force teams in a way that they are maybe not comfortable playing,” Sallee said. “Over the course of 40 minutes, you saw it play out today where it just wore them down.”
Wearing down on the Broncos, Ball State defeated Mid-American Conference (MAC) opponent Western Michigan to move to 1-0 in the MAC.
A large part of the disruptive defense comes from the full-court press. Throughout the season, Ball State has relied on the full-court press to force teams into difficult situations. Sallee said the press is one of those areas where the Cardinals are relentless in effort.
Usually on the ball in the full-court press, junior Marie Kiefer was at half-court guarding the bigs today. She described the press as a unit working together to force more turnovers. Although not reaching their season average of 20.5, Ball State did force 11 turnovers in the win.
“I think our defense is what helps us,” Kiefer said. “We strive for turnovers and we strive for deflections and getting kills, which is getting three stops in a row. That is what our whole defense is about. That amps us up to go and turn it over into offense and score.”
With the hard defense, the Broncos essentially gave senior Kaitlyn Zarycki the ball to go score. She ended up having 27 points, but there was no other Western Michigan player in double-digit scoring.
With the 40 minutes of relentless defense, Zarycki wore down. She had her worst shooting percentage of the game in the fourth quarter.
In the first half, the Ball State defense held Western Michigan to 29 percent from the field, 10 percent from three, forced six turnovers and only allowed 12 points in the paint.
Along with the familiarity that comes with the MAC, Sallee said there is also a little anxiety that comes with conference play in that everyone is playing for something now.
“Now there is a rolling record,” Sallee said. “Every game becomes monumental.”
Being familiar with MAC schools, Keifer is embracing the challenge.
“It is more challenging on our part and their part because we know them, and they know us,” Kiefer said. “It is just one big competition.”
In the second quarter, the Broncos switched to a zone. Ball State had to pivot their offense to adapt, Sallee said the adjustments were made so easy because of the skill Ball State has. Sallee said the Cardinals were able to take advantage of mismatches in the zone to create open plays.
Kiefer flourished in the second quarter. She was 3-for-3 from the field and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line. All amounting to eight points in 10 minutes.
Kiefer said a big help was the practices leading up to Western Michigan in working with the ball and getting into open areas. With the preparation, she was able to get to the open space and score, and more of her scores were in the paint.
Going up for a layup with 4:48 left in the third quarter, junior Ally Becki went up and believed she was fouled. Telling the ref her thoughts, the ref gave her a technical foul.
“I’ll take that passion all day long,” Sallee said. “She understands in critical moments that we don’t want that. But 100% of the time, I will take that passion. I will always have my player's back in that moment.”
In the 78-56 win, five Cardinals scored in double-digits, showing offensive versatility.
“It can be anyone's night, any night,” Kiefer said. “We could have five people score in double-digits, the whole team in double-digits, or one person in double-digits. Still, we would find a way to win and work together.”
Ball State will take on Akron, at Akron, in their next MAC game. The game is set to start at 2 p.m. Jan. 6.