Amid the conference schedule, Ball State women’s basketball played James Madison University as the second part of the Mid-American Conference (MAC)-Sun Belt Conference (SBC) Challenge.
Coming off of their first conference loss Feb. 7 against Northern Illinois University, Ball State (21-3, 10-1 MAC) women’s basketball got back in the win column with a 72-57 win against the Dukes (17-8, 9-3 SBC).
“The top of our league plays the top of their league,” head coach Brady Sallee said. “In a way, it is fun and challenging. This had a very postseason-like feel with the level of play they played at and the level of play we played at.”
Now that the MAC-SBC Challenge is over, Sallee expects a lot of coaches in the middle of it to be discontent with the outcomes. But on the surface, he said what both leagues are trying to do makes sense. He said picking up potential Quad 1 wins this late in the season is huge. Sallee did say there are a few things to iron out with the Challenge as a whole but overall had a positive outlook on its first year.
Coming off of the NIU loss, the Cardinals have not been in this situation very many times this season. Regardless, Sallee thought the Cardinals responded well. Junior Marie Kiefer said the team knew the intensity would have to go up to win, something the team learned after NIU.
Bringing the intensity, it was junior Alex Richard and Kiefer who led the Cardinals. Richard said the two bigs are constantly looking for each other to score during the game.
Growing into a constant starter for Ball State this season, Richard said she is most confident in going to get rebounds on the floor. She said it is something she can control whether her shots are falling or not in the game. Today, she finished with a team-high nine rebounds and also scored 11 points.
Kiefer had a good amount of her 18 points outside the paint, something not entirely unusual for the big this season. She could be seen making 3-pointers or hitting elbow jump shots to contribute for the Cardinals.
“I’ve worked on it [shooting] over the summer and definitely put that into my resume,” Kiefer said.
With Ricard, Kiefer and senior Annie Rauch leading the charge in the paint, Richard said the group is always happy for each other no matter what.
“Of course, we compete at practice, but when game time comes it can be anyone's night. It is fun,” Richards said. “We are always happy for each other, [there is] never a dull moment.”
During the game, Ball State was up by over 20 points, but in the fourth quarter, JMU was able to close the gap to single digits.
James Madison started the quarter on a 9-0 run to start the fourth. After the run, Sallee called a timeout.
“Unfortunately, in those moments there is not a whole lot you can draw up, other than try to help them,” Sallee said. “I felt like a schmuck because I couldn’t help them more.
“James Madison had nothing to lose in that moment, if they fouled they fouled, whatever happened, happened. You have got to be able to play through that and it doesn’t have to all be pretty.”
Not only were the Dukes coming back, but junior Ally Becki was forced to sit for a majority of the fourth quarter due to foul trouble. When she subbed in with minutes left, she made an immediate impact for the Cardinals.
Becki recorded an assist to junior Madelyn Bischoff for three, stole the ball at mid-court on the following possession and hit junior Nyla Hampton for a layup down the court. All of that, in just 12 seconds.
Pulling out the win, Sallee said it was good for the team to battle and fight for wins.
With 1:12 left in the game, Bischoff went down with what looked like an injury in her leg. With just under a week to their next matchup, Sallee said the days ahead will be getting Bischoff healthy, resting the team, lifting and more. He said there will be some self-evaluation, but the Cardinals will be ready to get back on the road once game time nears.
Ball State will travel to Ohio for their next game Feb. 17 starting at 1 p.m.