A reckoning of sorts arrived for Cleveland State on Tuesday night inside the Wolstein Center, ushered in by Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers, a former Horizon League program that presently plays in the Missouri Valley Conference, used a 15-0 run spanning the first and second quarters to walk away with a comfortable 66-52 result in the final contest for both teams before Christmas break.
For the Vikings, the loss shattered the team’s unbeaten mark in 2021-22, as CSU dropped to 9-1 in all games, while remaining 4-0 in the Horizon League. It also snapped winning streaks of ten games overall and 13 games at home, both of which began last season.
“I think a lot got exposed tonight that had really been there for quite some time, we’ve just been able to get away with it,” Vikings head coach Chris Kielsmeier said. “This was coming at some point if we didn’t change and start to play more consistently offensively, and stop making so many mistakes defensively.”
There was no shortage of ugly statistics on the Cleveland State side of things. The Vikings were held to an abysmal 4-for-23 from beyond the arc, with sharpshooter Gabby Smith accounting for 1-for-7 of that number, finishing with only five points. Loyola scored a whopping 42 points in the paint, many of them from Allison Day (who finished with a game-high 19) and with the defense well out of position.
“Offensively, we’ve got to play better,” Kielsmeier said. “We’ve got to hit more shots. We’ve got to coach better and get them better shots. You can’t go 4-for-23 from the three-point line and expect to win the game. A lot of those shots were open shots.”
“Defensively, we are just making too many mistakes, and tonight it really got exposed,” he added. “We made some bad mistakes, left uncontested layups where everyone in the building was going ‘what the heck are they doing?'”
Those lapses always seemed to appear at the most inopportune moments for the Vikings, particularly during a couple second half comeback attempts. Loyola’s deadliest blow, however, came much earlier than that.
After a Destiny Leo three gave the home side a 9-4 lead with 5:39 left in the opening quarter, CSU did not score a single point for the next 8:10 of game time; during that stretch, 9-4 became 9-19, and the Vikings were never closer than eight points to the Ramblers afterwards.
Leo, despite the good start, struggled for a lot of the contest. She was held to just nine shot attempts from the floor – though she still ended up with 16 points – and turned the ball over five times.
“They really crowded her and jammed her on ball screens, they got really physical with her,” Kielsmeier said. “And she kind of pressed, you could tell she wanted to try to do more, but the kid was gassed. She didn’t really have her legs underneath her, she was just a little bit off with her explosiveness downhill. I think the break really hurt her.”
Nadia Dumas took advantage of the Ramblers’ fixation on Leo and CSU’s other shooters, and found frequent-enough openings underneath to finish with 16 points and six rebounds. Deja Williams also had a solid game, which included running the point for a lot of the second half while Leo played off the ball. After Day, Loyola was led by Bre Hampton-Bey (15 points, nine rebounds) and Sitori Tanin (12 points).
With the non-conference schedule now complete, Cleveland State will head back into conference play following nine days off, as the Vikings’ next game is on December 30th at Robert Morris. It’s a break that is frustrating in some ways, nobody wants to stew over a tough loss for a week and a half, but one that also provides an opportunity to adjust and recuperate.
“What these kids have gone through over the last two, three weeks has been a lot,” Kielsmeier said. “And we certainly looked completely out of sync tonight. We looked like we hadn’t practiced much lately, and that’s the tough thing about the game. It’s a tough sport to play, and it’s very much a rhythm, timing, in-sync offense.”
“Now that it got exposed and it really pushed it out, we’ve got to respond.”