Leo, Vikings answer gut-check moment to down NKU


Cleveland State 63, Northern Kentucky 52

Here’s the situation: tie game, 6:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Visiting Cleveland State, despite holding Northern Kentucky at arm’s length since midway through the second quarter on Friday night, had seen its lead – which lasted for 18 minutes of game time and reached ten points late in the third quarter – evaporate. Most of the Norse stars contributed to that development, including reigning Horizon League Player of the Week Ivy Turner, who scored three of her team-high 16 points bookending a Nadia Dumas foul to pull NKU within two. Grayson Rose and Emmy Souder jump-started the 8-0 run with back-to-back layups to open the final quarter.

Lindsey Duvall finished the comeback, popping home consecutive buckets to tie the score at 49-49, representing the first time CSU wasn’t leading the game since the 4:35 mark of the second quarter. The made basket gave Norse coach Camryn Whitaker a chance to set up her press, various forms of which have caused the Vikings fits whenever deployed this season.

Let’s dig a little further. CSU entered the game 7-0 overall, but it could probably fairly be called a soft 7-0, as the Vikings had yet to play a road game. They had also been the beneficiaries of a pair of COVID-related forfeits, a lower-division win (Division II’s Quincy), and had played the Division I teams that, as of Saturday, were ranked 273rd (LIU), 288th (East Tennessee State), and 339th (UIC) in the RPI rankings. The Vikings had clocked a series of mostly-comfortable wins in those contests, as expected, but whether they could go on the road and beat a battle-tested conference contender like NKU (which entered the game 4-2 overall against a tougher schedule) remained an open issue.

What kind of team is Cleveland State? What kind of player is star point guard Destiny Leo? They’re questions both asked and answered in the moments that make basketball, and all sports, so compelling.

And the Vikings had answers.

That included Leo, who immediately countered Duvall with her own bucket to return the lead to her team, after Gabby Smith ripped the ball out of Turner’s hands and sent it up the court. The layup began a stretch where Leo scored eight straight CSU points, part of a game-and-career-high 31 on 11-for-15 shooting from the field. Following that initial two, Leo blocked a Turner shot attempt to help produce a shot clock violation, buried a three off of a ball screen on the following trip down, then added a finish through a Souder blocking foul and converted a free throw.

Smith, who finished with eight points, then got even more involved on offense by knocking down a wing jumper over Carissa Garcia and, following a timeout, hitting a corner three from Leo with 90 seconds remaining.

Cleveland State 62, Northern Kentucky 51. Ballgame, effectively, over.

While Leo and Smith headlined things offensively, CSU’s team defense was stellar all game long and particularly following the squad’s gut check moment, as Northern Kentucky scored a mere three points over the last 6:10 of the game after Duvall tied things, including just one point over the final 4:52. The Vikings also held NKU to 32.8 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers, a lot of that the result of a pressuring 2-3 that had the home team frequently battling the shot clock.

For the Norse, who controlled much of the first quarter before Leo threes on consecutive possessions gave the Vikings their first lead and unofficially got the sophomore revved up, Duvall and Rose each scored 11 points in support of Turner’s effort – though Duvall, a Louisville transfer, was held to 3-for-14 shooting, including 0-for-5 from behind the arc. The duo also grabbed ten rebounds each, tying with CSU’s Barbara Zieniewska for the game high.

For the Vikings, a new series of questions will undoubtedly be revealed next Sunday at Akron.

Cleveland State 2, Wright State 0

For the second time in 2021-22, CSU was the beneficiary of an opponent’s COVID-19 struggles, and earned a forfeit win in its contest at Wright State scheduled for Sunday. The Raiders were also forced to take a loss in a game scheduled for Friday against Purdue Fort Wayne.

Previously, of course, the Vikings received a similar result from a home showdown with IUPUI initially set for November 18th.

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