Ball State’s Kelly Packard took time for a group hug with her assistant coaches before she went to shake hands with legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt.
Packard will begin to prepare for second-round opponent Iowa State. Preparing for a second-round opponent is something Summitt has never missed out on. The Lady Vols were 21-0 all-time in NCAA tournament first-round games going into the game with Ball State on Sunday night.
Then Rocky Top came tumbling down.
Packard, the first-year coach at Ball State, recorded her 26th career win and the school’s first NCAA Tournament win with a 71-55 victory over the two-time defending national champions.
“I wanted us to play with class,” Packard said. “I wanted us to play with character and I wanted us to finish, no matter the outcome, the same way these young ladies have represented themselves and Ball State University the entire season.”
The close-to-4,000 people at Diddle Saturday night probably planned on seeing another Tennessee first round victory. Instead of seeing the Lady Vols win their 22nd first round game in school history, they saw Tennessee lose their first.
I’m not sure if the likes of Ball State guard Kiley Jarrett and forward Emily Maggert were just too worn out to show the joy on their face, but they sat in the post-game press conference poised and calm, answering questions while on a few occasions flashing grins.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Jarrett said. “Tennessee is a great team. I’d be lying to you if I told you it was going to be a 16-point victory. They’re a great team, and I’m not going to take anything away from them.”
Ball State did a great job creating offense from their defense. The Cardinals scored 17 points off of 16 Tennessee turnovers.
With two minutes to go, the large Tennessee contingency that had decorated Diddle Arena with Rocky Top orange began to head for the exits.
Ball State may have already fit themselves for Cinderella’s slipper in the NCAA women’s tournament. The little school in Muncie, Ind., took down one of the giants in women’s college basketball Sunday night. Ball State’s 146,00 living alumni were smiling tonight.
And one of the more famous alums, David Letterman, had a lot more than 10 reasons to smile.
What’s also interesting is the game was played on Western’s floor, the same floor where Western’s men’s basketball team played many games this season with many of the same characteristics that Ball State played with: heart, determination, togetherness.
It makes you wonder if there’s something in the air.