The last time Ball State Women’s Basketball and Kent State squared off in Worthen Arena, the result, and more impactfully, the atmosphere, was completely different. In the previous meeting, Ball State’s post-game thoughts weren’t on the result, but on the health of Anna Clephane. The Cardinals lost that game 54-51, and in the process, they lost one of their best players for the rest of the season with an ACL injury.
Fast forward 13 months to the same matchup, and not only is Clephane back and dropping 11 points on 33 minutes of playing time, but head coach Brady Sallee and sophomore Madelyn Bischoff are joking about dance moves after picking up a 80-71 win. This was not only the Cardinals’ seventh win in a row, but their first win over the Golden Flashes (14-6, 6-4 MAC) since Jan. 4, 2020.
With the victory, Ball State picked up its 19th win of the season (four losses), already more than last regular season, moved to 12-0 at home and 8-1 in conference play, maintaining the Cardinals’ position at number one in the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
“I just think the way that we play, no one can stop us,” Bischoff said. “I just think if we use everything that we have on our team, we’re unstoppable. I just think we keep playing the way that we have been.”
Bischoff led the Cardinals with 20 points, one of five Ball State players in double-digit scoring, including Clephane’s 11, sophomore Marie Kiefer’s 12, sophomore Ally Becki’s 14 and sophomore Alex Richard’s 10. She said she feels the Cardinals’ depth is the reason for their dominance, saying when the Cardinals aren’t shooting well from outside the paint, the “bigs” often pick them up, but when the bigs aren’t performing well inside, the shooters normally pick them up.
In this contest, it seemed most everything was clicking for the Cardinals, particularly in the first quarter that saw Ball State get out to its second-best offensive start of the season with 29 points. That said, it still was a contest that came down to the wire, as the Golden Flashes outscored the Cardinals in quarters two and three, led by senior Katie Shumate with 22 points.
Ultimately, both Kiefer and Bischoff hit clutch free throws at the end of the game, something Kiefer credited to the practice the team puts in from the line and something Bischoff said is all about not overthinking.
“I think understanding how to thrive in adversity is not just good for this team, but it's good for life,” Sallee said. “These kids are doing really, really well.”
The Cardinals were 16-19 from the free-throw line, including 5-5 in the fourth quarter. The 11th-year head coach said he gives a lot of credit to the men’s practice squad that plays against the Cardinals in practice to prepare them for the physicality of real games.
Bischoff said the bond between teammates helps the Cardinals feel comfortable and keep composure in crunch time.
“I just think our trust with each other and just knowing that we can trust each other with the ball is the main key for us, because knowing that we have each other's trust just calms me down and personally calms everyone else down,” Bischoff said.
Bischoff and Kiefer said his trust has been built in these adverse situations. Speaking of which, the Cardinals frontcourt ran into one of their most challenging situations yet, late in the third quarter.
As graduate student guard Annie Pavlansky went up for a layup, Richard blocked her shot, seemingly talking some trash after the fact. She then received a technical foul from one of the three on-court officials, and soon after, received a second, meaning she was ejected from the game.
After Richard made her way to the locker room for the remainder of the game, the Cardinals were down to just Kiefer and senior Annie Rauch in the paint. In the end, Ball State outrebounded the Golden Flashes 38-29 and outscored them 44-28 in the paint, and Kiefer finished with seven rebounds of her own.
“It was definitely different because [of] the way Alex had to leave,” Kiefer said. “She's always there supporting us, and so me and Annie pretty much just went out there and we just kind of played for her.”
With only eight games remaining in regular season play, the MAC Championship Tournament is inching ever-closer. However, it’s been a calling card of Ball State all season to not worry about anything other than the game right in front of it.
“Most of the time we only get like a two-day prep, so it's on us to focus in and know what we have to do and what we have to get done,” Kiefer said.
Sallee said teams that learn and grow through adversity are the ones that make it, feeling strongly that the team he leads falls under that category.
“I just think there's got to be a continued thirst to want to get better,” Sallee said. “If your focus is on the right stuff, then you don't lose focus worrying about the wrong stuff.”
The Cardinals return to action Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. against Eastern Michigan (12-9, 4-6 MAC) in Ypsilanti, Michigan.