Amele Ngwafang enjoyed her best game so far at Cleveland State, connecting for 20 points while pulling down nine rebounds, helping her Vikings team (6-0, 2-0 Horizon League) to an 87-65 victory over Long Island University (0-6, 0-0 Northeast Conference) on Sunday afternoon at the Wolstein Center.
“This is what she’s capable of,” CSU coach Chris Kielsmeier said afterwards. “She didn’t do anything tonight that surprised me.”
To be fair, there’s very little surprise in Ngwafang’s game. She plays Titanic-level low and typically outworks opponents for rebounds while being well positioned. Disproportionately, the points she gets are on offensive putbacks and other chaotic situations.
“[Assistant] Coach [Desma Thomas Bateast] emphasized how they were going to play us in the post,” Ngwafang said. “They’re a very aggressive team, and I just thought we took our time, we saw what the defense gave us, and we just executed well.”
On Sunday though, she added a new weapon to her arsenal: free throws. While a 6-for-10 rate from the charity stripe won’t blow many minds, the Radford transfer seems to have a newfound confidence when she absorbs one of the frequent shooting fouls against her, with the understanding that success or failure there plays a large role in what sort of game she ultimately has.
That doesn’t happen by accident.
“I try to shoot 100 free throws every day,” she said. “I’m starting to make them, so I’m trying to get my confidence back up. I know I get to the free throw line a lot, so I know I have to shoot a lot of free throws by myself.”
“She’s that type of player, I’ve got a tremendous amount of confidence and belief in her to make plays on both ends of the floor,” Kielsmeier added. “She was good defensively tonight too. She really made it tough for [LIU leading scorer Erykah Russell] in the paint to attack, and she got some good blocks on her and stuff.”
“Sometimes things just take time for kids, and there was no doubt – I told her that this game was coming, I just didn’t know when it was coming.”
Despite Ngwafang’s efforts, and despite entering the game winless and while being at the end of a road trip that saw them swing through Youngstown State on Friday (a 70-55 win for the Penguins), an enthusiastic LIU team gave the Vikings fits for a lot of the first three quarters before CSU managed to put the Sharks away.
Though the visitors never led during the contest, every time it seemed as if the Vikings might be about to crack the game open, Rene Haynes’ squad had an answer. They were within eight points as late as the 6:12 mark of the fourth quarter, before a pair of Gabby Smith three pointers triggered a CSU run that saw the Vikings score 17 of the game’s final 20 points.
LIU was able to hang around largely thanks to its blistering rate from behind the arc as the Sharks went 10-for-18 from three, highlighted by Emaia O’Brien’s 5-for-7 effort. Danielle Grim and Shyla Sanford each connected twice from long distance as well.
“[LIU] played really well, and [O’Brien]’s a heck of a player, that kid can flat-out play,” Kielsmeier added. “They’re a way better basketball team than what their record shows.”
“But with that being said, you always look at why are they hitting those shots, and we made some mistakes we can get fixed. We have been making those mistakes for weeks now, they just hadn’t been hit on us at that high of a level.”
For the Vikings, Barbara Zieniewska also had her best game of the young season, chipping in nine points while corralling a game-high 12 rebounds. Smith finished with 13 points while Destiny Leo, despite having an uncharacteristic game with a 4-for-16 line from the floor, still managed to score 18 points.
“I just believe so much in this team. I just think we’ve got playmakers on the offensive end, different people who can step up any given night, go out and do what [Amele] did tonight, a whole bunch of them,” Kielsmeier said.
Up next, the Vikings – despite Kielsmeier’s joking protests – will play their first two road games of the season, of the 11 required by Horizon League membership. The foray back into conference play includes a trip to Northern Kentucky on Friday, followed by a contest at Wright State on Sunday, though it also comes with a warning from CSU’s coach:
“Don’t be surprised if [Amele] does it again next game out.”