Cleveland State didn’t need much luck in Sin City.
The Vikings battered their way through Lindenwood and Campbell on Monday and Tuesday to sweep their pre-Christmas trip to the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, and run their record to 11-1 overall. The victories, CSU’s tenth and eleventh in a row, tied the program’s record for consecutive wins, established early in the 2019-20 season.
Cleveland State 72, Lindenwood 45
A typically-suffocating defense forced 25 turnovers – ten in the first quarter alone – to lead the way in the smashing of Lindenwood, a new-to-Division I program that joined the Ohio Valley Conference this season.
The game, which was never really in doubt after the Vikings successfully arrived at South Point Arena in time for shootaround, represented the seventh time this season that CSU never trailed in a contest, following the wire-to-wire wins over Hofstra, Georgia State, Saint Bonaventure, Oakland, Detroit Mercy, and Central Michigan. It was also the fourth time in 2022-23 that CSU held their opponent to fewer than 50 points. Both statistics were helped along greatly not only by the turnover count, but also by a Lindenwood shooting effort that saw the Lions connect on only five field goals in the first half (out of an unusually-low 19 attempts, thanks largely to ball security).
On the other side of the floor, Destiny Leo led the Vikings with 11 points, nine of them from behind the arc, before punching out following a light 21 minutes of duty. Gabriella Smith added ten points, seven of those during the first quarter, including a shot-clock-beating three that handed CSU the lead for good at 5-2, and a turnover-supplied bucket generated by a pressured Lions pass to the top of the half court. Her early efforts helped pave the way for every available Cleveland Stater to play at least 11 minutes and score at least three points during the match.
Faith Burch’s ten points rounded out CSU’s double-digit scorers and became a new career high for the redshirt freshman from Warren, OH. Burch, Sara Guerreiro, and Carmen Villalobos tied for the Vikings lead with seven rebounds each, the latter doing so over 27 minutes – by far the most significant action for the Hartford transfer while wearing green and white.
Cleveland State 80, Campbell 55
Leo’s 1,000th career point highlighted Cleveland State’s rout of Big South foe Campbell on Tuesday. The junior sniper became the 32nd player in program history to reach the milestone when she connected from the top of the arc with 6:33 remaining in the opening period to save a moribund possession and give the Vikings a 7-3 lead.
After that, what had been a bit of a plodding start for both teams evaporated, and CSU fired up the machine that had proven so fruitful against Lindenwood: the Vikings forced 13 Campbell turnovers in the first half while holding the Camels to 5-for-22 from the floor and 0-for-8 from three-point range.
Offensively, Deja Williams took over following Leo’s bit of history. The junior point guard initially entered the game following the first quarter media timeout, with 4:16 remaining in the period, and 33 seconds later had six points to her name after knocking down a pair of threes. She then mixed in her usual arsenal of steal-and-scores and isolation plays as well (and, inevitably, free throws after being hammered on the way to the basket, though she made the Camels pay with a spotless 7-for-7 mark from the stripe). Williams’ eventual 19 points was her best scoring total since her freshman season at Cal State Northridge.
Thanks largely to the defense, Williams and another healthy dose of Villalobos – who had 11 points, nine of them on threes, and four rebounds, all in the first half – Cleveland State opened up a staggering 45-14 advantage on their NET top-200 opponent by halftime.
Campbell finally pushed back during the third quarter, in part by holding the Vikings scoreless for a stretch of just under six minutes, one that began shortly before halftime. Gianni Boone led the way for CU offensively with a game-high 20 points, seven of those coming during a frame where the Camels outscored the Vikings 25-13 to trim the lead under 20 for a bit, and at least plant the notion of a miracle comeback. However, Guerreiro fueled a quick 7-0 run to open the fourth quarter and pull things back in CSU’s full control. The Portuguese guard first knocked down a three to finish her own offensive rebound, then collected a steal leading to a Brittni Moore layup less than a minute later. In between those plays, Williams made a theft of her own, ending in a pair of free throws.
After a brief holiday break, the Vikings will return to their Horizon League schedule next week in hopes of building on their 2-0 league mark with a pair of tough road games: Thursday, December 29th at Youngstown State and Saturday, December 31st at Robert Morris.