The Ball State Cardinals (21-3, 9-1 MAC) got back in the win column Sunday afternoon, defeating the James Madison University (JMU) Dukes (17-8, 9-3 SBC) in the finale of the MAC-Sun Belt Challenge by a score of 72-57.
Here are four takeaways from the game.
Finding their footing
After the surprising loss Wednesday, Feb. 7 to Northern Illinois, a big question was how Ball State would open the game. Would there be any carryover from the loss, or would they start fresh?
A dominant quarter in all facets of the game allowed them to put up 27 points in the first 10 minutes.
The game started on a 10-2 Ball State run thanks to an-and-one layup and a 3-pointer by junior Marie Kiefer.
In Wednesday’s loss, the Cardinals shot 22 percent from the 3-point line. In the quarter Sunday afternoon, Ball State went 5-for-7 (71 percent) from the 3-point line. Five different Cardinals hit the 3-pointers.
Ball State also brought it on the defensive end, holding James Madison to 11 first quarter points. The Dukes shot 29 percent from the field on four made field goals. James Madison coughed the ball up five separate times in the first period.
While the Cardinals also gave it up four times, the difference was Ball State’s ability to convert off of the Dukes’ mistakes. The Cardinals gained 11 points off of James Madison turnovers, while the Dukes had just two.
After a game Wednesday where a lot of wide-open threes and layups didn’t go down, the opening 10 minutes of Sunday’s game were the complete opposite.
The Cardinals’ predominant post-players showed up in a big way Sunday, bouncing back from a less-than-stellar performance against Northern Illinois.
Coming into the game, the Duke’s were averaging 46.8 rebounds per game. That’s an average of 14 more rebounds than Ball State. After getting outrebounded by 20 in the previous game, Ball State dominated down low thanks to Kiefer, junior Alex Richard and senior Annie Rauch.
Kiefer continued her hot start for the rest of the game, finishing with a game-high 19 points and three rebounds. Richard had a team-high nine rebounds along with 11 points. Rauch also added five rebounds.
Ball State held its own in the points in the paint battle. The Cardinals finished with 30, while James Madison finished with 36.
The Cardinals got the better of the rebounding battle for most of the game, allowing them to open up a big lead. While a late run by James Madison gave them the edge in the rebounding department, Ball State’s dominance in the paint allowed the lead to stretch to as big as 26 with 4:09 left in the third quarter.
The lost art
All season, Ball State’s offense has centered around getting their 3-point shooters open looks and generating easy layup attempts. The James Madison defense forced multiple Cardinals to take mid-range jumpers. Eventually, they took them and made them with confidence.
The Dukes were running a version of a 1-2-2 zone defense, with the point defender extended to guard the ball. It allowed the middle of the zone to be open for most of the afternoon.
In the first half, Richard and sophomore Ana Barreto each hit two mid-range shots near the free-throw line. Kiefer had back-to-back jumpers of her own from around 15 feet in the second half.
If Ball State can have players score at all three levels, it makes them that much more harder to stop.
The difference late
The game didn’t turn out to be a blowout.
After having the 26-point lead with four minutes left in the third, James Madison cut the lead to nine with four minutes left in the game. Junior Ally Becki went out with her fourth foul early in the final period, leading to the Dukes forcing countless Carindal turnovers on other Ball State ball-handlers.
Becki subbed back into the game and made an impact by handling the ball, driving and kicking to junior Madelyn Bischoff for a 3-pointer. On the ensuing inbound, she stole the ball and threw the ball ahead to junior Nyla Hampton who was streaking open for a layup.
The sequence brought the Worthen Arena crowd to their feet and forced a James Madison timeout.
The other difference was Ball State’s ability to shoot free throws down the stretch. They finished the game 14-for-18 (78 percent) from the line. That’s a huge uptick from their 45 percent performance against Northern Illinois.
The Cardinals return to Mid-American Conference (MAC) play Saturday, Feb. 17 at Ohio with tip-off scheduled for 1.pm.