Cleveland State used a 30-4 run over 10:21 spanning the first and second quarters to cruise to a deceptively-comfortable 76-59 win over Bellarmine in the second game of the Hampton Inn Cleveland Downtown Viking Invitational at the Wolstein Center on Friday.
After a rough start to the afternoon, things began to turn in the Vikings’ favor after a fairly routine play during the last 90 seconds of the first quarter, an offensive rebound by redshirt junior Aminata Ly that drew a foul to Bellarmine star center Gracie Merkle. Then, just 12 seconds later, a Faith Burch steal led to another Merkle foul. Suddenly, the 6-6 freshman who had made life miserable in the paint for the home team to that point was stapled to the BU bench until after halftime.
With the train tracks a bit more clear on both ends of the court, CSU managed to initiate one of their trademark defense-into-offense runs. The Vikings generated ten turnovers during the second quarter – against only eight attempted field goals by the Knights – as Sara Guerreiro (eight second quarter points), Brittni Moore (six) and Deja Williams (three, with a couple of timely steals) took their usual places in the center of the feeding frenzy of steals and runouts.
Just like that, the Vikings led 44-24 at halftime after falling behind 16-10 eight minutes into the game, essentially deciding the contest.
“You take what’s being given and you don’t really force it,” Burch said of the team’s mindset during runs. “With this team it’s really nice because I feel everyone does what they do really well, so when they’re given the chance, they kind of take it into their own hands.”
Williams made an important early-run play at the end of the first quarter, outworking the Knights for a steal while drawing a foul and sinking a pair of free throws with six seconds left to pull CSU within two after an ugly opening period.
Burch initially entered the game after the first-quarter media timeout with BU ahead 10-6 and immediately made several key plays to help stabilize things as well, through her unique blend of physicality and athleticism. She drew the crucial second foul to Merkle, but also contributed three points, two rebounds, and a steal during a period when not much else went right for the Vikings.
“I always try to give an aggressive presence when I try to hit the floor,” Burch said. “I try to do what I do well, which is rebounding, defense, and running the floor. That’s what I thought we needed at that time, so that’s what I did.”
“Faith just has so much potential, we’re just trying to mold it,” Kielsmeier added. “She’s going Mach-10 all the time on both ends of the floor, but sometimes we’re trying to pull that back and get her to understand how that can be used against her if she’s not careful with it. She’s going to defend, she’s going to rebound, she’s going to run the floor, those things are easy for her.”
“That kid’s going to make a lot of plays in her career here.”
In addition to Merkle, who would eventually foul out by hacking Williams with three minutes remaining, Bellarmine struggled with foul trouble to its top players throughout the affair as Cam Browning, Hayley Harrison, and Miyah Brown all ended the game with four fouls. That quartet combined for 38 of BU’s 59 points, though only Harrison topped 30 minutes.
Kielsmeier attributed that situation to the Vikings’ aggression in attacking the basket.
“We’re going to attack the basket, so defend us,” he said. “It’s a year-round thing in our program, we’re going to go to the basket and you’ve got to stop us. We do a lot of drills to get downhill and get to the basket, it’s who we are.”
Destiny Leo paced Cleveland State with 16 points, 11 of those coming during a second half where Bellarmine repeatedly threatened to pull within sweating distance, though the Vikings managed to keep BU at arm’s length and eventually coasted to the final horn. Moore finished with 12 points and six rebounds, while Guerreiro totaled 11 with four rebounds. In all, six CSU players scored eight points or more.
“Every coach in the country wants to be deep, and we have that,” Kielsmeier said. “It can come with challenges. Players really have to understand roles and understand that this is bigger than themselves and basketball, it’s about the program.”
Cleveland State will finish out their home MTE on Saturday afternoon against St. Bonaventure at 4:00 p.m., as the Vikings try to sweep through their way through the field and improve to 5-1 overall.