Just ten minutes in, Ball State women’s basketball found themselves down 27-9 to Buffalo.
The Cardinals were 20 percent shooting from the field, only made three 3-pointers, were out-rebounded 14-6, had four turnovers and did not have one second with the lead.
Buffalo’s Chellia Watson had too much space was one issue, head coach Brady Sallee said. She had 17 points in the first quarter.
Sallee said the Bulls were able to force Ball State out of their comfort zone, regardless, he saw the resolve to fight in his team.
“I don’t think anybody on the team was nervous, per se, or extremely worried,” junior Nyla Hampton said. “We knew it was something we could do (come back), we just knew we all had to lock in.”
Ten minutes later, it was a four-point game.
Sallee said he could feel the momentum turn when Ball State closed in on the lead, down single digits. At halftime, it was 33-37.
“That was a very normal halftime for us, and it could have not been,” Sallee said. “The second quarter was so big because it could have gotten away from us and we fought like cats and dogs to not let that happen.
“We knew we had every chance if we took care of business to win it.”
Fighting like cats and dogs, Ball State took their first lead in the third quarter with 6:30 remaining.
“I wouldn't say we haven't been in this position before, but not by that many points,” junior Ally Becki said.
On the court for 39 minutes, Becki said she finds joy in playing essentially the whole game. She finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and zero turnovers in her 39 minutes.
Recently named the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Player of the Week for the second time this season, Becki said she doesn’t feel like she is playing at her best.
“She [Hampton] is stuffing the stat board every night, and I think she deserves it way more than I do,” Becki said.
While she was helping to lead the offensive comeback, Becki said she saw change in the second quarter by seeing shooting on the perimeter and being able to trust teammates to make plays.
One of those teammates she consistently found was Hampton. While not normally a 3-point shooter, Hampton helped with the momentum to come back against the Bulls by hitting four 3-pointers on five attempts. In the end, she finished with a team-high 16 points and was 6-for-7 from the field. She also had four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
She played for 38 out of 40 minutes and guarded the Bulls leader, Watson. Hampton said it was just the same effort she goes into with every game. Guarding Watson, Hampton also had zero fouls.
After taking the lead in the third, Ball State went into the fourth quarter up 50-48. In the fourth, it was a back-and-forth with five lead changes between the two teams.
With two minutes left, a dish to senior Annie Rauch connected for an and-1 play, giving the Cardinals the lead with 1:57 remaining in the game. It was a lead they did not give up. Going 5-for-7 from the free throw line and sealing a 67-62 win for Ball State.
Going against the then 7-5 Bulls, Sallee said he didn’t expect anything different with the conference opponent. Sallee said that it differs from the non conference where it is just matchups, he compared the conference schedule to a chess match with the other teams.
“At the end of things, we know there is a bullseye on us,” Sallee said. “Our record demands it and this is what comes when you beat an SEC [Southeastern Conference] team and have the non-conference success we had. We have become a huge game... We are good with that, but it doesn't make it necessarily easy, but I wouldn’t want it to be any other way either.”
Ball State (13-2, 3-0 MAC) will return to Worthen Arena on Saturday to take on Bowling Green (9-4, 3-0 MAC) at 1 p.m. After losing to Bowling Green in the MAC tournament last year, Becki said it is in the back of her mind. She said it is a little different though since the Falcons have changed coaching staffs and players.
Facing her former team, Hampton said she is going into the Bowling Green game with the mentality of it being “just another game.” She said she is used to competing against the Falcons and playing against friends is not anything new to her basketball experience.