Early Bird: The morning after

With a daunting 0-14 road record dating back to last season on their shoulders, the Ball State women’s basketball team had had enough. A strong effort resulting in a 55-50 win at Evansville Tuesday night at the Ford Center showed a lot of heart, toughness and character.

“We go from 0-3 to 3-3 and those are things I could see,” coach Kelly Packard said, following her third-career win over Evansville. “Since winning on the road is such a grind, i think for us to be able to grind one out early on the road just continues to help us play a little bit looser on the road, taking shots early and having the confidence to take those shots.”

The game went back-and-forth all night, but the visiting Cardinals, led by sophomore forward Jazmin Hitchens, who tallied a team-high 11 points and chipped in with eight boards, came away with the victory to spoil the Purple Aces’ home opener.

“She just plays with a lot of energy,” Packard said. “She has natural aggressiveness and competitiveness. That translates to creating that for her teammates. She’s made a huge difference in practicing at game pace [and] competing at game pace. I think that’s something that [her] teammates are allowing to translate over to their play as well.”

The Cardinals were out-rebounded by five at halftime, and Packard sent a clear message to her team.

“When we went into the locker room at the half, we really talked about the ability to take rebounding and make it something that we have such a commitment to.”

Katie Murphy emerged from the visiting locker room with one thing on her mind; secure the basketball and limit her opponent’s second chance opportunities to score.

She did just that by coming down with 12 total boards, including 10 defensive rebounds.

“Several of those 10 rebounds that Katie pulled [down], she did it in such an authoritative way,” Packard said. “Snatched it out of the air, brought it down to her chin and pivoted. There was just no question that she secured [those rebounds].”

The play that sealed Ball State’s first road triumph of the season came in the waning minutes of the game. With less than two minutes to play, the score was knotted at 48-48 before sophomore guard Brandy Woody received the ball and charged to the hoop for a layup. Woody was fouled and completed the three-point play by sinking her lone free throw of the game to give Ball State a 51-48 lead.

“She took the ball to the hoop aggressively,” Packard said. “She was in control, but assertive and that’s something Brandy is growing in.”

Winning on the road is no easy task, but the Cardinals found a way to overcome the past, snapping their winless skid, while evening their overall record to 3-3.

“We did a good job with our staff and our bench of bringing some energy,” Packard said. “Certainly the second half, some of the plays that we made stood out.”

No longer is this young team–centered around eight underclassmen and just two seniors–playing incompetent. Those days are long gone. This team has formed a winning identity and it started on Nov. 19 with an 81-72 victory over Murray State at Worthen Arena. Two games later, the Cardinals find themselves riding a three-game winning streak.

Winning streaks have been a rarity for the Cardinals of late. Their last run came in the magical 2008 season, when rookie coach Packard led the Cardinals to 12 straight wins, eventually upsetting the No. 5 seeded Tennessee Volunteers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Cardinals return to Worthen Arena Thursday night for the fist of of a brief two-game home stand when they play host to the Detroit Mercy Titans (2-3) of the Horizon League in a 7 p.m. tip-off.

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