Brittni Moore scored a career-high 26 points on 10-for-15 field goal shooting, while Amele Ngwafang added 16 points and ten rebounds as Cleveland State routed Central Michigan 86-55 on Thursday afternoon in Mount Pleasant, MI.
The Vikings, thanks to their eighth straight victory, are now 8-1 overall, and remain 2-0 in the Horizon League. CMU is 1-7 overall.
Though the contest eventually became lopsided, largely during a 21-6 second quarter that ended with a 8-0 Vikings run spanning four minutes, it mostly got there without one of CSU’s fireworks-laden mega-bursts. Cleveland State had just one steal and two made three pointers at halftime, relying on a robust post presence fueled by Ngwafang, as well as Moore’s all-around game.
Ngwafang, who collected her 13th career double-double, had 11 points by halftime through her reliable work on the low block, and she was an integral part of a Vikings defense that held Central Michigan to just 7-for-35 on their two-point field goal attempts.
“They’ve got big, physical post players, and we knew that the game would be a physical game,” Vikings head coach Chris Kielsmeier said. “Our post game is really coming in. Our post players have been playing well all year, but there’s still a lot of potential out there that hasn’t been quite tapped into yet. They’re playing really physical, which is allowing us to get to the line a lot.
“Our post play tonight was outstanding.”
While Ngwafang has always been something of a known quantity, Moore continued what has been a breakout season so far, powering an ascension into one of CSU’s front-line stars.
She averaged 6.2 points and 4.9 rebounds in her first season in Cleveland, 2021-22, but has scored in double figures during six of her team’s nine games this year, preceding her new career best with 15 in the Vikings’ upset of DePaul on November 15th and 16 more in the opening game of the Viking Invitational against Georgia State. With 11 points and 12 rebounds, she notched her first career double-double versus Hofstra on November 12th.
“She’s just relaxed within the system,” Kielsmeier said. “Some of it last year was coaching. We played her at the 2 a lot for the fall, then she’s playing the 3, then she’s playing the 4. We were moving her all over the place, and sometimes with transfer kids, it takes the coaching staff a little bit of time to figure out exactly what their strengths are, exactly how they want to play, and fit that in to the system.”
“The other side of it is Brittni just works. That kid, she had a great summer, she was working on her game in June and July and August. When kids are playing like that, it didn’t just happen. She has worked, and she’s getting the rewards from it. The more you put into it, the more you have a chance to get out of it.”
Thanks largely to the efforts of Moore and Ngwafang, the Vikings administered a multi-dimensional physical beating throughout the 40 minutes. CSU outrebounded their hosts by a 50-30 count, outscored them in the paint 48-14, and made 28 trips to the free throw line, compared to just 12 for the Chippewas.
“Total team defense is what we’re always about, and our defense was sharp today,” Kielsmeier said. “And offensively, we were pounding the ball inside. When we play that way, we’ve got a chance to put a big number up, and that’s what happened today.”
Central Michigan’s long-range shooting was just about the only thing keeping the Chippewas afloat at times. As a team, CMU shot 11-for-26 from behind the arc, accounting for 33 of the team’s 55 points. Sydney Harris led the way for her squad with 20 points, including six of those 11 three pointers.
“[Harris] is a special player,” Kielsmeier said. “She’s a true freshman, and she can score at will. We tried to really make sure we were defending her, but she got some shots that she hit.”
It wasn’t enough to stem the game’s tide however. After Harris connected on a pair of bombs midway through the second quarter to trim Cleveland State’s lead to 35-24, Moore took over. The UT Martin transfer was fouled driving to the hoop immediately after Harris’ second three and hit a pair of free throws to intiate the half-closing run. She added ten more points during the third quarter, including a three pointer to open her team’s second half scoring, followed about five minutes later with a steal converted into an and-one layup that put the Vikings ahead 61-37 midway through the frame.
Destiny Leo rounded out Cleveland State’s double-digit scorers with 16 points, shaking off a slow start to bury a pair of second-half three pointers, along with five free throws, mostly after being decked while flying to the bucket.
“You come to one of our practices, and you’ll see that kind of physicality against each other, day in and day out,” Kielsmeier said. “So it’s nothing new, they’re doing what they do every single day. This team puts in the work, they prepare hard, and they’re focused.”