Hot-shooting Vikings rally, stun DePaul in overtime

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With 6:35 to go in the first quarter of Cleveland State’s game at DePaul on Tuesday, Vikings head coach Chris Kielsmeier called timeout. The FloSports broadcast of the game dropped into a full break, though announcer Matt Rodewald’s mic remained hot long enough to catch a moment of candor.

“Thought this would be a close game, guess not,” he said dismissively, before realizing the situation and cutting things off.

To be fair, Rodewald had a point since, at that moment, the Blue Demons led 13-2. In what looked like a sequel to the early stages of the Vikings’ opening game at Iowa State, CSU was 0-for-4 from the floor (their points were on a pair of Brittni Moore free throws) and had committed four turnovers.

Later that evening, Wintrust Arena’s final buzzer made one of the biggest results in Cleveland State history official: Vikings 90, Blue Demons 83 (OT).

So what happened in the two hours and 12 minutes between those moments? Well, a lot.

The most obvious and significant thing, the one that will always be front of mind when recalling this upset on a snowy Chicago night, was Carmen Villalobos’ heave of a three pointer from the left wing with 1.1 seconds remaining to force overtime. Villalobos, the Spanish transfer from Hartford, was just about the unlikeliest hero on the Vikings’ bench after playing a total of six minutes during the game and missing her only previous shot attempt, but her aim was true after catching Deja Williams’ kick-out feed.

Another player who had an unexpected evening was Villalobos’ fellow European, Barbara Zieniewska. Zieniewska, a one-time regular starter, had seen her role significantly slashed during CSU’s first two games this season, and had been on the floor for a mere 53 seconds against Hofstra on Saturday.

Against DePaul however, the Polish graduate student played a pivotal 25 minutes. She finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, including a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc. Two of those three pointers came in the first quarter following the early timeout, part of a torrid team-wide shooting effort – 48 percent overall, 47 percent from three – that helped the visitors pull level at 23-23 after the first quarter, mere minutes after being left for dead. Williams, Destiny Leo, and Sara Guerreiro also connected on triples during that stretch.

On the other side of things, the Vikings’ 2-3 zone didn’t turn their former rivals in the old North Star Conference over at its usual clip, but it did help produce a poor shooting effort from the Blue Demons. Second-team All-American and Wooden Award watch list selection Aneesah Morrow feasted all evening to the tune of 42 points on 18-for-33 shooting (along with 15 rebounds) but outside of her career-best and program-record-tying effort, the hosts hit just 14 field goals in 61 tries, including just 4-for-24 from three-point range. CSU also blocked nine shots, led by Jordana Reisma’s three.

Though Leo (a team-high 22 points) and Moore (15 points) helped keep the Vikings tied during a defensive second quarter DePaul, the fourth-place pick in the Big East preseason poll, seemed to take control during the third quarter. Morrow was virtually unstoppable during the period, scoring 12 of her team’s 25 points and surviving some foul trouble to help the Blue Demons to a 60-51 lead entering the fourth.

Cleveland State responded quickly and nearly finished the comeback ahead of schedule when a Leo steal leading to a Williams three-point play was followed immediately by a Moore steal and score to scratch the Vikings within 65-64 with 4:52 remaining, but DePaul recovered to push their lead back to 74-68 with 2:01 remaining. From there, Zieniewska buried her final three pointer, while a driving Leo layup also helped set up Villalobos’ heroics and an overtime period that CSU won decisively.

Williams hit four free throws during the extra frame, the final points of a staggering 49-4 advantage in bench scoring (with 14 of those points coming from the fiery point guard, along with a career-high eight assists), while Zieniewska made a crucial steal immediately after a Vikings turnover. Zieniewska’s poke from behind ended with a Moore three-point play, putting Cleveland State ahead by multiple possessions, a status that would hold the rest of the way.

The Vikings, now 2-1 on the season, will try to keep their momentum going when they continue non-conference play on Saturday in western New York against MAAC opponent Niagara. The opening tip from NU’s Gallagher Center is scheduled for 2 P.M. Eastern.

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