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2023 Women’s National Invitational Tournament Round 1 Recap: Ball State Cardinals 101, Belmont Bruins 86

Ball State recovered from a slow start on the offensive end to punch its ticket to the second round of the WNIT.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 11 Women’s Ball State at Toledo Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ball State cruised to a 101-86 home win over Belmont in the opening round of the WNIT on Thursday evening, securing the program’s first victory in the event since 2018.

Although the Cardinals went on to log their third 100-point scoring night on the season, they did not open with a strong offensive first quarter. The first ten minutes of play saw Ball State convert on just 5-of-14 field goals and 2-of-6 three-point attempts.

Brady Sallee’s squad’s offensive woes led to a low-scoring first quarter, with just 12 points on the scoreboard at the end of the frame. Unsurprisingly, the Cardinals trailed the Bruins 23-12 at the end of the quarter.

Ball State seemed to flipped a switch in the second quarter, as they caught fire in the ten minutes leading into halftime, shooting a much-improved 10-of-17 from the field, including six three-pointers. The squad’s improved efficiency on the offensive end propelled it to overcome its early deficit. A 30-17 edge in the second quarter allowed Ball State to carry a two-point lead into the locker room at halftime.

With Coach Sallee’s halftime adjustments serving as the catalyst, the Cardinals took its offensive success to new heights in the second half.

The final two quarters saw Ball State shoot a combined 22-of-37 from the field, which led to an impressive 59-point performance in the half. In addition to the hot shooting figures, the Cardinals’ offensive dominance was made possible by its efficient ball movement. Ball State recorded 22 assists, while only turning over the ball on six occasions.

Also worth noting is the Cardinal and White’s success at the charity stripe. Ball State connected on 11-of-12 free throws, which allowed it to steadily maintain their lead.

The Cardinals received just eight of their 101 points from their bench, meaning that the starting five provided high levels of production.

In what could have been her final game in a Ball State uniform, senior Anna Clephane delivered a 31-point performance, marking a career-high total. The Taylor Mill, Kentucky native arrived at her milestone with an efficient offensive showing, converting on 12-of-16 field goal attempts.

Behind Clephane on the box score were two 20-point scorers who found most of their success from deep in Madelyn Bischoff (23 points with five threes) and Thelma Dis Agustsodottir (20 points with six threes.)

Ally Becki also had a commendable outing, despite not scoring at a high rate. The guard out of Brownsburg, Indiana dished out 13 assists, and was the backbone of the Cardinal’s offense.

The win lifts Ball State to the second round of the WNIT, where it will square off against Memphis on Monday, March 20 in the Elma Rome Fieldhouse.

The Tigers enter the outing with 21-10 overall record, and were among the top teams in the American Athletic Conference this season. Ball State should expect a physical test from them, as they finished 22nd in the nation in rebound differential.