Ball State (3-3, 1-1 MAC) had beaten Akron (3-2, 0-2 MAC) seven of its last eight meetings. Sunday afternoon in Akron, Ohio, the Cardinals made sure to make it eight of the last nine, and sophomore guard Sydney Freeman made sure of it, too.
The Cardinals defeated the Zips 67-60, largely in part to a career-setting performance from Freeman. She set career highs in points (19), steals (five) and tied her career high in rebounds with six.
“Early on in preseason, honestly, Sydney was our best player,” head coach Brady Sallee said. "She got off to kind of a slow start for us and sprained her ankle. But like good players do, she changed the way she was practicing. She started practicing harder and with a higher motor. What you saw today was a product of that.”
The game itself was neck-and-neck the whole way. Neither team seemed to find a way to pull away until the third quarter. That was when the Cardinals went on a 6-0 run, thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers from junior forward Thelma Dis Agustsdottir and junior guard Essence Booker to lead 46-39 at the midpoint of the quarter.
Every basket the Zips scored, Ball State answered with one of its own. Late in the fourth, Akron had a chance to make it a one-point game by making two layups, but missed the Zips missed both.
With 25 seconds left in the game and the Cardinals up 66-60, Freeman was fouled. She then made her second free throw to earn her career high.
From the game’s beginning, it wasn’t hard to see that Freeman was going to have a good game. She scored five of the team's first 10 points and found herself in double figures by the 8-minute mark of the second quarter.
“[Freeman] and Essence were special today,” Sallee said. “She's the head of the snake for us, so-to-speak. She's got the ball in her hands, we go as she goes, and she was really good today and a big reason why we won the game.”
Despite her performance offensively, Freeman also finished with seven turnovers. However, she continued maintaining her poise and recorded another season high with six assists.
Booker and senior forward Oshlynn Brown provided support of their own on the stat line. Booker finished with 14 points and four steals, and Brown had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Junior forward Blake Smith contributed on the defensive side of the ball with 10 rebounds.
“Osh got dealt a bad hand with the broken thumb she had,” Sallee said. “That first game that she played in the cast, she just couldn't really be herself. Playing in a cast is not easy. Without it on her hand today, you saw the real Osh. That's who she is for us. She's that warrior on the floor, and you know she's our leader."
Ball State’s next game won’t be until Jan. 2, when the team faces another one-loss team in Bowling Green (5-1, 1-0 MAC). Coach Sallee said he is excited that his team is starting to build a familiar identity — like some of his past teams — and they are starting to figure out who they are.
“It's always good to win the game before Christmas, and [it] makes for a lot merrier Christmas,” Sallee said. “We can kind of savor this for a little bit, as we take a few days off. Then, when we come back on [Dec. 26], it'll be business as usual, but that business will be done with some confidence behind us.”
Contact Evan Weaver with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @evan_weaver7.