For the entire 40 minutes of game action, the Cardinals never trailed.
Ball State (2-3, 0-1 MAC) had a strong start and kept its intensity all four quarters, walking away with a convincing 98-42 win Monday night over Bellarmine (0-1, 0-0 ASUN).
The dominant performance began right from the jump, as the Cardinals ran out to a 29-5 lead at the end of the first quarter. Leading by 24 points, the team never looked back afterward.
“I challenged them to have their own energy,” Sallee said. “It helped hitting shots early, and we just played well as a team.”
The Cardinals used a balanced scoring attack to pave the way offensively. Five players finished in double digits, and junior guard Essence Booker led the way with 22 points. She scored 10 of the team's first 12 and finished 8-for-12 shooting, including 3-for-4 from the 3-point line.
Sophomores, forward Annie Rauch and guard Sydney Freeman, scored 15 points apiece. Freeman dished out six assists and grabbed two steals to add to her performance. Rauch, who recorded her first career double-double over Western Kentucky Dec. 5, continued her streak Monday and finished with 11 rebounds.
Sallee said he is proud but not surprised by Rauch’s recent efforts.
“It is always great to bring someone off the bench who is good enough to be a starter,” Sallee said. “The numbers she's putting up are huge for us.”
Sophomore guard Anna Clephane came off the bench to score 16 points, going 7-for-9 from the free-throw line, while forward Blake Smith rounded out the double-digit scorers with 10 points. Smith also finished with nine rebounds and two blocks. In total, all nine Cardinals who stepped on the court scored in some capacity.
Senior forward Oshlynn Brown made her long-awaited season debut, playing with a cast on her hand. The Preseason First-Team All Mid-American Conference selection scored six points and tallied five rebounds in 18 minutes of game action.
For the first time all season, Ball State committed fewer than 20 turnovers, finishing with eight on the night. Sallee said he was impressed with the Cardinals’ ball security and toughness.
“We hammered them all week on taking care of the ball,” Sallee said. “Anytime as a coach, when the team responds to adversity, you are proud.”
Junior guard Krystal Rice missed Monday’s game with a knee injury. Her status is considered day-to-day.
Senior forward Lauren Deel paced the Knights, finishing with 14 points. Operating for the first time in school history as an NCAA Division I program, Monday marked Bellarmine’s season opener.
With conference-only games here on out for Ball State, Sallee wants to use this game and last week's string of practices to help prepare for the road ahead.
“The biggest thing we learned is, ‘You're going to play the way you practice,’” Sallee said. “We’re getting healthy. With Osh back on the floor, with Krystal hopefully back soon, we have to come with energy and effort.”
The Cardinals return to the court Dec. 20, when they travel to Akron. While this is Ball State’s second conference game, it will start the conference-only slate for the rest of the season. Tipoff is 2 p.m.
Contact Charleston Bowles with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cbowles01.