Regrouped Vikings rout Dons twice in series sweep

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The Cleveland State women’s team (12-3 overall, 7-2 Horizon League) swept its Thursday-Saturday home-and-home series with travel partner Purdue Fort Wayne (5-13, 4-7), as the Vikings ran their winning streak to three.

Purdue Fort Wayne 59 at Cleveland State 85

Chris Kielsmeier postgame
Nadia Dumas postgame

Birthdays can signify many things to people. For kids, it’s a present haul rivaled only by the holiday season. For those in their 20s, it often means a night they won’t remember. Beyond that, it’s a date many don’t want to acknowledge, it’s merely a marker representing the passage of time.

For Nadia Dumas, who turned 23 on Thursday, it was an opportunity to have arguably the best game of her career. Dumas, a redshirt senior nursing major, tied a career high with 19 points and added seven rebounds to lead the way as the Vikings used a big third quarter to put away the visiting Mastodons at the Wolstein Center.

Are the two things connected?

“No, not really,” Dumas said. “I did get in my head a little bit in the beginning because I was kind of nervous. But once the game tipped off, it was just another game on the schedule that I have to play and it so happens to fall on my birthday.”

“It’s certainly a special day for her,” Vikings head coach Chris Kielsmeier said. “She’s just a worker. She’s got some limitations, she’s barely six foot, and she should be successful around the basket against some people, but she finds a way.”

“She loves the game, and comes ready to play really physical, and she moves her feet defensively. She’s a really good basketball player on both ends of the floor.”

On the opposing side, Purdue Fort Wayne was paced by Sylare Starks, a Detroit Mercy transfer, who scored 20 points on a sizzling 8-for-16 line, including 4-for-8 from three-point range. Shayla Sellers – an Aurora, Ohio native – added 15 points on a similarly-robust shooting percentage (6-for-11 and 3-for-5) to combine with Starks for more than half of the Mastodons’ points. Sellers also contributed a game-high nine rebounds.

The two Dons guards propelled their team to a 16-12 lead at the end of the first quarter, and though CSU took the lead for good on a 12-2 second-quarter run highlighted by four of Dumas’ points along with three-pointers from Destiny Leo and Isabelle Gradwell, PFW managed to linger within four at the half thanks to a pair of Starks buckets in the final 93 seconds before the buzzer.

After the break however, Cleveland State ran riot, outscoring Purdue Fort Wayne 30-12 in the third quarter to authoritatively lock the game down. The stretch, fueled by an aggressive defense that smelled the blood of a turnover-prone opponent, began in earnest when a Barbara Zieniewska steal ended in a Dumas three-point play to put the Vikings ahead by seven with 7:43 to go. That helped launch an 11-0 CSU run that included a second Dumas and-one, and though Starks and Amellia Bromenschenkel eventually replied, Zieniewska negated each of them with a triple within 20 seconds to push the score to 52-37.

“We work like that all the time,” Dumas said of the team’s ability to turn opponents over and run the floor. “Even in practice we work like that with each other, we’re really hardworking, which shows up in the game. We knew in the first half that we weren’t playing our game and doing what we do well but in the second half we really demanded those things out of each other. We knew that we could get steals and rebounds to be successful.”

Zieniewska played arguably her best game of the season, as she wound up with 11 points, seven rebounds, and four steals – the latter number including a pair of interceptions on early Mastodon backdoor cut attempts, stifling a key part of PFW’s offense.

“The zone, when it fires, and it’s forcing turnovers and kind of dictating how that ball gets moved, it’s pretty special and we get turnovers and get shots in transition off of it,” Kielsmeier said. When we’re not doing that, against a team that shoots it well from the perimeter, they’re going to get open shots and opportunities to score. What you saw tonight was both of those things.”

However, the positive side to the zone won out in the end. After 16 Purdue Fort Wayne turnovers in roughly 14 minutes of game time spanning the final two quarters, and the 18-for-28 shooting effort that largely stemmed from the Vikings’ defensive prowess, CSU was able to put things in cruise control for the final five minutes of the game en route to a 26-point victory. The margin was the Vikings’ largest against a Division I opponent since the 81-54 win over East Tennessee State in the season opener on November 9th.

Cleveland State 80 at Purdue Fort Wayne 58

Maria Marchesano postgame
Amellia Bromenschenkel and Aubrey Stupp postgame

While Saturday’s rematch in Fort Wayne’s Hillard Gates Sports Center offered some tension, particularly late in the third quarter when the Mastodons drew within 46-40, Cleveland State’s 60.4 percent shooting clip for the contest and 13 steals proved too much for the home team to overcome.

Early in the game, Dumas once again factored heavily, this time in tandem with Amele Ngwafang, as the Vikings attempted to exploit mismatches down low. In the first half, each scored seven points while combining for 11 rebounds. Ngwafang keyed one first quarter stretch when she scored a traditional three-point play to give CSU a lead they would ultimately hold for the remainder of the afternoon, then added another of her trademark crashing buckets two possessions later for a 9-6 Viking advantage. Gradwell’s hybrid game was also clicking, as the senior scored a team-high nine first-half points, en route to 11 for the game.

While CSU pounded it inside to the tune of an eye-popping 52-20 advantage in paint points, the Dons’ sharpshooting that kept them in most of Thursday’s contest deserted them. Starks and Sellers combined for 5-for-26 from the floor, and 3-of-18 from three-point range. Sellers, however, had more than scoring on her mind, as she took over point guard duties from standout floor general Riley Ott, who broke her wrist during Thursday’s game.

“She didn’t score it today, but she handled point guard duties for 38 minutes and only had one turnover,” Mastodons head coach Maria Marchesano said. “And she guarded the best guard in the league in Destiny Leo and she gave her fits all game long, and then still handled the ball and only had one turnover.”

“Shayla really stepped up as our point guard tonight, she only had one turnover, which is insane for someone who’s just now taking on the role of being a point guard,” Bromenschenkel added.

Sellers’ work on Leo involved holding the Vikings star to just two points on 1-for-5 shooting in the first half. Nevertheless, CSU built a reasonably comfortable ten-point lead by halftime, though it was 13 until Aubrey Stupp hit a long three just before the buzzer.

“I didn’t know what to do, and I just felt it and was like you know what, we’re going with it,” Stupp said of her shot, which she called “probably” the longest one she’s hit in a game. “I was feeling confident.”

Stupp’s shot signaled a little bit of a shift in the third quarter, as the Dons began to connect from distance. Starks bounced back to knock down a pair of threes during the frame, while others came from Stupp and Bromenschenkel, who finished with a team and career high 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting. With 2:15 remaining, Starks’ second three pulled PFW within six. However, after a pair of missed free throws cost a chance to draw even closer two possessions later, Cleveland State quickly righted itself thanks to an immediate Leo jumper, then a Gabriella Smith three with six seconds left to push the Vikings lead one point beyond its halftime size by the end of the quarter.

“It was a six-point game, and we were on the line for two free throws. We could’ve cut it to four,” Marchesano lamented.

“Then they score five points, we don’t take advantage of our free throws…that was a huge swing. That was our opportunity to get back in the game, cut it to four, and go into the fourth quarter with a really tight game. Instead of cutting it to four, it stayed at six, and they pushed it to 11 within a minute. That was tough. That was a big blow. I really felt like that was our opportunity to get back in it.”

With the Mastodons’ most promising surge turned aside, CSU re-opened the feeding frenzy in the fourth, closing the game with 29 points in ten minutes to turn the briefly-tight scoreline into a rout, thanks to a bevy of easy buckets off of turnovers (Smith had three steals in the quarter), or while running downhill after breaking PFW’s press. Leo was a primary finisher for the Vikings during those run-and-gun sequences, winding up with 21 points despite the quiet first half. Smith also contributed offensively, scoring nine of her 14 points in the last 10:06 of the contest.

“[Cleveland State’s] athleticism and skill top to bottom is impressive, I think they’re a team to compete with in this league,” Marchesano said. “At the end of the day, you can’t beat any team giving up 60 percent in field goal percentage, and credit to them, they got downhill on us, and they got in the paint.”

Next week, Cleveland State will finish what ended up as a stretch of six road games of seven total with trips to play UIC – likely the last regular-season meeting as conference opponents between schools that have shared the Horizon League since 1994 – and title contender IUPUI. The matchup with the Flames will tip on Thursday at 7:30 PM ET, while the Vikings and Jags will square off at 2:00 PM ET on Saturday.

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