March 12, 2022. The stage was set, and the Ball State Women’s basketball team was set to play Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship. Buffalo wins 79-74.
January 18, 2023, the first meeting between the two teams since the MAC Championship. Ball State Women’s basketball team defeats Buffalo 81-59.
Although it was the same Buffalo name on the jersey, the Cardinal players took little notice of the previous MAC victors. Redshirt senior Anna Clephane said that “It is a whole new team,” and sophomore Ally Becki added that “we knew what we had to do.”
“The Buffalo team we played, there was only one kid from that [championship] team,” head coach Brady Sallee said. “That is not the defending champion, that is a whole different team they got right now. We didn’t really talk about it, and I didn’t think it was much of a motivator.”
Sallee said the game went how he thought it would. He was impressed with how the team stuck to the game plan.
“We defended and started to turn them over, and turning defense into offense,” Sallee said. “If you let us get off that many threes it is going to probably be a long night for you. [I am] really really happy with the way we played on the road, it was a good win.”
One of the Ball State leaders was Clephane. Just coming off of the 1,000-point mark, she picked up right where she left off on Saturday. She had 20 points and was 8-of-12 (66 percent) from the field.
“Going into the game it's kind of just do whatever you have to do to win, like whatever happens happens,” Clephane said. “They ended up guarding me sagged off a lot more than usual so I had to be patient and kind of take my shots and not what they wanted me to take.”
Becki, who was the Cardinal's leading scorer, finished with a double-double and had 23 points and 10 rebounds. She was also 5-of-8 (62 percent) from the 3-point line.
Becki ended up leading Ball States in almost every single stat. She led in points, 3-pointers made, rebounds, assists and steals. The only category she did not lead in was blocks. Becki accredited her teammates for trusting her to handle the ball.
The Bulls, even in a loss, were able to cause some trouble for the Cardinals. Fifth-year Zakiyah Winfield, fifth-year Jazmine Young and graduate student Re’Shawna Stone all were in double digits scoring. They combined for 41 of the 59 points that Buffalo scored.
“Those three guards are good, quick on quick, and they can really get it to the rim and break your defense down,” Sallee said. “Really for us, it was about being really really disciplined, trying to make them a single effort. Trying to turn them into just jump shooters instead of getting it to the rim.”
The bench for Ball State continues to be a major factor for the Cardinals. Senior Annie Rauch, who came off of the bench, was third in scoring with 14 points. She was 6-of-9 (66 percent) from the field in only 19 minutes.
“She was great. [She even] banged a three, and [we] put her in that screen and roll game. We found her a lot when they collapsed on the ball,” Sallee said. “She was really good getting to that backside block for us. She was huge, absolutely huge for us. The depth continues to be a strength of our team, we never know where it is going to come from but it always seems to step up when we need it.”
Shooting was one of the strongest parts of the night for Ball State. They shot 50.8 percent from the field, 38.7 percent from 3-point range and 64.3 percent from the free throw line.
Ball State now advances to 10-0 when they score 80 or more points.
“It is a whole lotta good players and selflessness,” Sallee said. “You look at the way we move the ball and our assist numbers, I always say the hardest thing to guard is ball movement. When we get the ball moving I think we are tough to guard, obviously we have a lot of people who can make shots.”
Even with Clephane and Becki leading for the entirety of the game, they both spent most of the second half with three fouls.
“You just have to be a little more mindful,” Clephane said. “For me, it's like when I'm driving I know I have to be careful because they like to take offensive charges on me so I have to definitely have that in the back of my mind.”
Sallee, even if worried, trusted his players when under foul trouble.
“There are times as a coach you hold your breath because you don't want them to pick up a silly one [foul],” Sallee said. “They understand how to play with fouls and understand the importance of them being on the floor. They handled themselves really well.”
The Cardinals now are 4-1 in the MAC and 14-4 overall so far this season.
“We just have to keep on playing one game at a time,” Becki said. “So if it takes us losing the next four games or if it takes us winning the next five games as long as we learn from it and are able to do what we need to do, I feel like right now we're doing good.”
The Cardinals will be back in Worthen Arena to face Central Michigan on Jan. 21 at 1 p.m.