Despite their lowest point total since Dec. 21, Ball State (19-2, 9-0 MAC) ground out a 57-46 win over Kent State (13-6, 7-2 MAC). With the win, Ball State is 9-0 in conference play for the first time in program history.
Here are three takeaways from the win.
Sharing the rock
Ball State’s Jan. 27 against Eastern Michigan saw them assist on 21 of their 28 field goals. It’s a trend that head coach Brady Sallee said is a “barometer” for how well their offense is running.
Wednesday, the Golden Flashes came out in a 2-3 zone, a defense designed to pack the paint and stop straight line drives to the basket. If an offense wants to be successful against it, they have to move the ball to make the defense move and be smart when they decide to drive the basketball.
The Cardinals did just that in the first quarter, having six assists on their seven made field goals.
Junior Ally Becki, who came into the game leading the team with 102 assists, found junior Madelyn Bischoff for Ball State’s first 3-pointer with 7:35 left in the first quarter. Bischoff returned the favor when she handed it to Becki for a top of the key 3-pointer to cap off an early 10-2 run. The duo finished with two first quarter assists.
Junior Nyla Hampton came into the game just one assist behind Becki for the team lead. With just over three minutes to go in the first, she pulled down an offensive rebound and found Bischoff wide-open for a 3-pointer. Two minutes later, she added the final assist of the quarter to senior Annie Rauch, helping Ball State secure a nine point lead after the first 10 minutes.
End of quarter runs
In most second quarters this season, Ball State has pulled away from their opponents once the game clock resets to 10 minutes. Coming into the contest they were outscoring opponents by a combined 110 points over the course of this season. Wednesday was different.
With over seven minutes gone by in the second frame, Kent State was playing on their terms. They cut the Cardinals’ lead to 23-17, forced Ball State into seven turnovers, and held them to 1-for-7 shooting (14 percent).
With 2:30 left in the half, junior Marie Kiefer knocked down a 3-pointer late in the shot-clock to start an 8-0 run, with the back half of it being anchored by Rauch. In the last two minutes, she converted on an and-one basket and jumped the passing lane for a steal-and-score to extend the lead to 31-17 heading into halftime.
Coming out of halftime, it was more of the same. Rauch ended a Ball State scoring drought that lasted the first three minutes and 46 seconds of the third period on a layup. Their next field goal didn’t come for another six minutes.
During that time, the Golden Flashes inched closer and cut the lead to 34-30. That’s when Becki, who had just five points at the time, rattled off seven more, contributing to a 9-2 run to end the quarter and push the lead back up to double-digits.
Kent State coming out in a 2-3 zone defense, a defense that can be susceptible to giving up 3-pointers, was surprising considering the Cardinals 25th in the nation in 3-point percentage (36.6) and 9th in 3-pointers per game (9.0). As evident by Ball State’s second and third quarter struggles, the defense worked.
Ball State shot 5-for-27 (18 percent) from distance in the game. Becki went 2-for-10, while Bischoff went 2-for-6. They had to get it in other ways, and they got it from Rauch down low and with turnovers.
Rauch finished with 15 points on 62 percent shooting, accounting for almost half of the Cardinals’ points in the paint. She also added seven rebounds with three of them being offensive boards.
Ball State had zero turnovers in the first quarter and just one in the third quarter. They were plus 5 in the turnover margin, forcing the Golden Flashes to give up the ball 15 times. The Cardinals converted on those mistakes, getting nine points on the fast break and 18 points off of Kent State turnovers.
Winning in different ways is important come the postseason. Winning a game like this against a team with just one conference loss coming in, it might show that Ball State doesn’t need their 3-point attack and can grind out a victory the “ugly” way.