Early Bird: Road woes continue for Cardinals

Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of the Early Bird (or in this case another edition of necessary roughness)…The Ball State women’s basketball team dropped their third straight Mid-American Conference road game, a 63-48 defeat at Toledo on Thursday night. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicated, resulting in another disheartening outing for coach Kelly Packard and her team.

The stat that told the game was the differential in shooting percentage. The Rockets shot an impressive 48 percent from the floor, while the Cardinals tallied an inexcusable 26 percent, their worst shooting percentage of the season. You have to go back to February 27, 2010 to find the last time the Cardinals recorded that low of a shooting percentage. It was against those same Rockets. The Cardinals shot 26.4 percent from the field and lost in similar fashion, 62-48.

Packard said her teams’ post defense struggled considerably to contain the Rockets’ offense.

“Really poor,” Packard said. “We gave up a 20-point night on 9-for-10 shooting to Yolanda Richardson. We actually did a lot of things well defensively, but in that area, we didn’t do well at all. I felt like our team defense outside of the post was actually pretty good tonight.”

Richardson was a concern for Packard and her staff heading into the game. Due to injuries to freshman Neschelle Williams (ankle) and Katie Murphy (ankle), Packard started senior co-captain forward Suzanne Grossnickle and sophomore forward Jazmin Hitchens at the interior post positions. Murphy did see some playing time, but was limited. Senior co-captain center Amber Crago also was part of the rotation, but despite being the tallest player on the team (6-foot-3), Crago was virtually invisible. The forward combination was the most disappointing group of players on the floor for Ball State. Grossnickle, Hitchens, Murphy and Crago went a combined 4-for-21 from the field and just 1-for-5 from long range.

Moving on…Packard said if her team played any post defense whatsoever, they would’ve been in the game. While tracking the entire game against the Rockets, I don’t see how that is even remotely possible. The Cardinals weren’t even close to being in the game. Even if they had played aggressively in the post, they couldn’t score to save their lives. Shooting 26 percent from the field is insulting. Sure they’re a young team, but there have been times where this young group of players has excelled. In their 78-73 double overtime triumph over visiting Stetson on Dec. 4, the Cardinals shot 47.3 percent from the field. In their 81-72 defeat over visiting Murray State on Nov. 19, the Cardinals shot 53.8 percent from the floor. This team is certainly capable of scoring points and the dismal shooting percentage versus the Rockets is unacceptable.

Moving on…On Friday, Ball State athletic director Tom Collins, who has held his position since January 2006, announced he will step down when his contract expires in June. Collins, who has been viewed by many as a poor leader, said he is leaving due to family reasons. That could be so. But there certainly could be more to the story than what meets the naked eye. Trying to determine other possible reasons for Collins’ sudden decision are few and far between. But speculation always emerges in a story like this. It could be due Pete Lembo, who Collins hired as head coach of the football program in December of 2010. Lembo, who has created a lot of new energy within the program, is said to have also butted heads with many in athletics. Of course, this is all pure speculation. Let’s not jump off the cliff here. The university could also be covering up something bigger. Again, complete speculation. But it’ll be intriguing to see if there is more to it than Collins is leading us to believe.

Moving on…Grossnickle received votes for MAC Player of the Week honors. Grossnickle, a Belleville East High, Ill., alum, executed a tremendous 3-point play late in the second half against Northern Illinois on Jan. 11, which enabled the Cardinals to hold on for the 50-43 victory. She scored 10 points in 10 minutes of playing time against the Huskies while also recording 11 points and seven rebounds at Central Michigan in a 84-66 loss on Jan. 14. Over her last three games, Grossnickle has gone 8-for-19 from the field, 2-for-5 from 3-point range and a perfect 7-for-7 from the charity stripe. It would be huge for Grossnickle to heat up for the Cardinals as they look to rebound from here on out.

Moving on…The Cardinals return to Worthen Arena following a dissatisfying two-game road trip, where they were outscored 147-114. The Cardinals will host Eastern Division rival Akron at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Akron was dealt a heartbreaking 72-71 loss at Ohio on Thursday. Three Zips reached double figures in scoring, including sophomore guard Sina King (15 points), junior guard Taylor Ruper (14 points) and sophomore guard Hanna Luburgh (12 points). King also led the team with 16 boards in the loss. The Zips own an 8-11 overall record and are 2-3 in the MAC. The Zips are 1-2 on the road during conference play this season.

Outlook: Surprisingly, the Cardinals are a perfect 2-for-2 on their home floor during conference play this season, which makes this game all the more important for this team, which desperately needs a win to stay in contention. Murphy will likely play against the Zips, but Williams remains questionable. Murphy, Grossnickle and Crago will need to elevate their game for the Cardinals to win. Also, the team must get more clean looks at the basket.

That’s all for now…

Thanks for reading,

-Poz

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