Defense travels well, as the old cliché goes. But fortunately for Cleveland State, sometimes it stays home as well.
On an afternoon where the Vikings showed some rough edges on the offensive end of the floor and on the glass, Chris Kielsmeier’s suffocating zone largely dictated a 62-46 victory over Hofstra at the Wolstein Center on Saturday afternoon. With the win in their home opener, CSU climbed to 1-1 overall while dropping the Pride to 0-2.
Brittni Moore hauled in 12 rebounds while scoring 11 points, a career-best rebounding number and a first career double-double for the Memphis native. Moore fired home four of the first five points in the contest as the Vikings jumped out to a 20-8 lead after ten minutes, a margin that wouldn’t face any serious threat the rest of the way.
It was a showing-out of sorts for Moore, who said that her jill-of-all-trades game comes from the effort required to make up for a size deficit.
“For me personally, ever since I started playing basketball, I’ve prided myself on my defense because I’ve always been undersized for my position. “I’ve always had to be scrappy, essentially trying to predict what my opponent is going to do next so I can be one step ahead of them, if you will,” the 5-10 forward said.
“Brittni can make plays offensively,” Kielsmeier added. “I think she’s really getting a good understanding of how she can make plays in our system and where we’re at. I think the think I’m most proud of with her today is her defense and her rebounding.”
“We’re trying to get Brittni to understand how much of an impact she can make defensively, not just being a good defender, but being a good defender that can turn people over, chasing the ball and not getting out of position doing that. She did a really good job with that today, she got a big rip and a breakaway layup in a big situation.”
In that first quarter, Cleveland State turned the Pride over a whopping eight times, and while some of that number originated from CSU’s active perimeter defense, others involved a confused and frustrated Hofstra team firing passes into the second row. HU eventually settled down a bit and wound up with 22 giveaways for the game, but largely, the damage had already been done.
“Not everyone’s used to seeing a zone like ours, so we try to use that to our advantage and cause as much chaos as possible,” Moore said. “We always want to keep them on their toes, always trying to figure out what they should do, with them realizing that no matter what they do, it’s not going to work as long as we’re flying around and playing defense the way we’re supposed to.”
“As a collective, our defense is something that we really pride ourselves on, it fuels our offense, it’s essentially how we get going.”
CSU’s lead grew as large as 20 midway through the third quarter, following a 15-3 run bridging the halftime break. The Vikings, though they struggled for consistency at times, always seemed to find a big shot right as it was needed. When Hofstra closed to within 29-21 late in the second quarter, the closest the game would get after the early stages, Sara Guerreiro responded with five straight points, capped by a steal and three-pointer. She, Moore, Destiny Leo or Amele Ngwafang generally had all of the answers whenever the Pride would probe at the home team’s safe lead.
“Sara’s got a ton of game, and can impact the game on both ends of the floor,” Kielsmeier said. “She really impacted the game, and she’s someone we think is going to grow significantly as she gets more experience and more opportunities in practice to learn exactly how we want to utilize her.”
Leo led the Vikings with 19 points, though she struggled a bit from the floor in firing at a 5-for-16 clip, including 2-for-7 from three-point range. Guerreiro offered 12 points, while Ngwafang rounded out the four CSU players in double figures with ten and five rebounds.
As in the season opener against Iowa State, Kielsmeier got every available player (the full roster minus injured Julia Hintz) on the floor, at least briefly. However, as the second half ground forward, he seemed to lean heavily on game starters Leo, Moore, Ngwafang, Gabriella Smith, and Carmen Villalobos, as well as Guerreiro.
“We didn’t really talk about combinations and rotations much at all until recently, and now we’re talking about it constantly,” Kielsmeier said, referencing his team’s improved depth. “We’re trying to figure out who’s playing well together, who’s our better defensive lineup, who’s the best offensive lineup in this offense, and then when we switch and go to another offense, who’s the best lineup for that offense.”
“I want to show versatility and the strength in numbers mentality, because we’ve got really good players, a ton of depth, a ton of versatility.”
The Vikings won’t have long to savor the victory – or talk about their rotations – as they travel halfway back to Iowa on Tuesday to face Big East foe DePaul, CSU’s second major-conference opponent in the first three games of the season. Tipoff from Wintrust Arena in Chicago is scheduled for 8:00 P.M. Eastern.