Good afternoon and happy Friday…
After watching last night’s lopsided women’s basketball game between the suddenly emerging Ball State Cardinals and the winless Detroit Mercy Titans, I realized how easy it is to regress rather than progress, especially for a very young team.
Following a hard-fought and much-needed 55-50 victory at in-state rival Evansville on Tuesday night, Ball State’s confidence was soaring. The momentum was riding with the Cardinals. But, for a team still searching for a consistent winning formula, growing pains can be taxing. Thursday night was a notable struggle for the Cardinals, as they ran into a team who was desperately hungry for a win.
The Cardinals scored first on sophomore forward Jazmin Hitchens’ jump shot just 20 seconds in, but the game was over before the home team could catch their breath. The Titans tied the game on their next possession on freshman forward Shareta Brown’s layup, and never looked back. A three-point deficit quickly turned into a 10-point hole for the Cardinals, had trouble penetrating the Titan’s sagging man defense.
Coach Kelly Packard, who was thoroughly disappointed in her team’s performance, said Detroit Mercy was the best winless team she has seen on film. And respectively so.
“They unloaded on us last year at their place, so I knew it was going to be difficult,” Packard said.
The Titans were not only difficult, they were ambitious and demanding of the basketball in both the offensive and defensive zones. It was as if this team was playing with a perfect record instead of an 0-6 mark. Brown, who was unstoppable, charted 21 points, 15 of which came in the first half, and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the field, while sinking seven of her eight free throws.
The 6-foot rookie played like a fourth-year senior. Packard said Brown is truly a remarkable player with a bundle of talent in all phases of the game.
“The big kid, Brown, is just really skilled for a freshman,” Packard said. “She’s posting double digit numbers in scoring and rebounding as an average so far in her freshman year.”
The Cardinals attempted numerous strategies to try and slow down Brown, but none of them worked. When double teamed, Brown recognized the situation and either charged to the basket or dished the ball out one of her teammates on the perimeter. When the Cardinals opted to go with man coverage, Brown used her size and athleticism to her advantage, scoring at will and causing chaos for the Cardinals’ defense.
Senior co-captain Amber Crago, who stands at 6-foot-3, defended Brown for the majority of the game. Despite Crago’s experience and height advantage, Brown was too skilled.
“She is a good player,” Crago said, following the game. “I could have stepped it up definitely. She has our respect. We saw her make  shots and she’s only a freshman. She’s on her way up from here.”
Packard who concurred with Crago, said Brown is the best freshman she’s seen in recent memory.
“She’s got good tempo when she catches,” Packard said. “She doesn’t force ugly shots. For her size, she also passes out of double [teams] really well. Those are things that make her an outstanding player.”
The Cardinals trailed by 11 points at the half. The deficiency of the first half proved to be too much for them to handle. Despite a 40-point half by the Cardinals, the Titans tallied 48.
The frustrations were evident on Packard’s face. The offense stalled and the defense failed to make enough timely stops. The Cardinals shot fairly well in the first half, 40.6-percent from the field. But the Titans converted nearly 50-percent of their field goals.
Despite the delayed results from the Cardinals offense, Packard believes her team will eventually buy into the new scheme.
“We got to stay committed to it, supplement it with some quick hits where we can and keep them encouraged with it,” Packard said. “At times we’ve looked really good.”
The Cardinals certainly didn’t look good Thursday night. Fatigue was a big factor in their 19-point loss, and Packard couldn’t put a finger on why her team was so exhausted.
“The milestone for me in this game is our fatigue,” Packard said. “That’s a little perplexing knowing that we gave them several days off for Thanksgiving. [I’m] trying to put a finger on whether we need to address that from a cardio standpoint and my gut says that we don’t. Or if we just need to shorten up a couple of practices and just work on the intensity of the time that we have.”
Nonetheless, the loss was tough to swallow for the Cardinals, who had pieced together a three-game winning streak before being dismantled by the Titans.
“It was really tough,” Crago said. “We really prepared at practice. I know it might not have shown in the game, but I know we still grew today. We stayed together. We’re a young team and chemistry is a big deal. At the end, we still stuck together where other times maybe we wouldn’t have done so.
“We have [today] off and we just [have] to come back Saturday focused and united. That’s our biggest thing. If you’re together, you can do anything. We just got to get our rest and come back ready to hit it and put this game behind us.”
*What’s on Tap:
The Cardinals will conclude their brief two-game home stand with a 1 p.m. tip-off against the Stetson Hatters of the Atlantic Sun conference. The Hatters own a 6-2 mark this season and have won two of their last three games, including a 71-62 win over Miami (OH) on Nov. 25, and a 68-60 triumph over ETSU Thursday night. The Hatters own a 5-2 non-conference record this season and are 1-2 away from The J. Ollie Edmunds Center.
*Taking a quick look at the Hatters…Stetson has started five players in their first eight games of the season, including freshmen Clarissa Coddington and Cherisse Burris along with sophomore Sasha Sims and juniors Shanasa Sanders and Victoria McGowan. Sanders, who was awarded the A-Sun Newcomer of the Week after recording career-highs in points (24) and rebounds (8). The accolade was a career-first for Sanders. She also posted 17 points and eight rebounds against Miami (OH), and totaled 24 points in a 77-62 loss at USF on Monday. For the week, Sanders averaged over 20 points with a 48.4 shooting percentage from the field, along with over six rebounds and two assists per game. McGowan and Sims are also legitimate offensive threats for the Hatters. McGowan averages 14 points per game, and has eight 20-point games in her career. Sims leads the group with 68 total rebounds, an average of 8.5 per game. Sims also averages more than 11 points per game.
On paper, this game appears to be another tough challenge for this young Cardinals team. The offensive firepower of the Hatters could prove to be problematic for the Cardinals. Minimizing the number of second chances on the boards and playing sound fundamental basketball will be key. Also, the team chemistry has to start to show. Against the Titans, the Cardinals couldn’t maintain consistent offensive pressure. On a number of occasions, the Cardinals weren’t getting clean looks and were taking unnecessary shots. It’ll be interesting to see how this team bounces back with minimal rest and just one day to prepare for the Hatters.