Cleveland State dominates IUPUI to extend one streak, end another


“This ain’t what you want”
“This ain’t what you want”
“This ain’t what you want”

After victories, Cleveland State typically plays DJ Khaled’s well-worn anthem “All I Do Is Win” during the locker room celebration. But after Sunday afternoon’s 92-49 massacre of IUPUI at the Wolstein Center, a different song entered the mix: Lil Uzi Vert’s “Just Wanna Rock,” inviting the full-throated participation of a roster that had just won its 15th game in a row to improve to 15-1 overall and 6-0 in the Horizon League.

“Buh buh buh buh”
“Buh buh buh buh”
“Buh buh buh buh”

It was a little bit extra, but some results demand extra.

Most people know that IUPUI defeated Cleveland State in last season’s conference championship game by holding off a Vikings rally from 18 points down midway through the third quarter. They may not know the full extent of CSU’s struggles against the Jaguars: throwing out last season’s COVID forfeit, IUPUI had won 11 straight games over the Vikings on the court, a streak dating to 2013, before the Jags were even in the Horizon League. Most of the results weren’t particularly close either. In fact, that title game was the only score during the run within single digits. Six of the margins topped 20 points, two of them passed 30.

One long streak ended, one even longer streak continued. Fire up that playlist.

“It’s something that we talked about before the game, IUPUI is a team that we haven’t beaten since they’ve been in our conference,” Vikings guard Destiny Leo said. “That gave us a little bit more fuel than we already had to come out and play hard and get another win.”

Like so many of those ill-fated contests against IUPUI over the last five years, this one was over very quickly, though in the other direction. Gabriella Smith hit a three-pointer on CSU’s first possession, just 13 seconds into the game, kick-starting an opening 16-2 run. By the end of the first quarter, it was 21-6; by halftime, it was 46-18. Though IUPUI ended up shooting a respectable 38.2 percent for the game, they registered just 19.2 percent in the first half while the Vikings built most of the eventual final margin. CSU, on the other hand, hit on a blistering 55.4 percent of its field goal attempts for the game.

“After [Purdue Fort Wayne had success shooting the ball on Friday], we adjusted putting our hands up and contesting the shot more, and being there on the catch rather than being a step late,” senior forward Amele Ngwafang said.

Cleveland State head coach Chris Kielsmeier credited his team, including both Leo and Ngwafang, for their intelligence and their work in learning the game and the system, and the role that played in reversing the recent history against the Jaguars.

“We’ve got a whole bunch of coaches on the floor,” he said. “That makes my life a lot easier, not only because of the leadership in the locker room and stuff, but they just understand the system. They understand what we’re trying to do in different moments. That’s hard to do in the moment. It’s easy to talk about it and recap it when you got it right, but can you get it right? We’ve just got a whole bunch of really smart basketball players that work at it.”

Leo scored 18 points in the first half, on the way to a tidy 21 for the game, the final three arriving just ahead of the second quarter buzzer. While dribbling a few feet behind the arc, Leo saw her defender back off slightly. Rather than wait for the clock to run all the way down, Leo decided that she had the opening she needed for an unofficial dagger.

“I saw her backing up,” Leo said, “and that’s probably the perfect opportunity for me to get the three off. That’s all I did was look at her feet. We are really good at closing possessions in quarters and halves, and I think we’ve really hurt teams with that all year long.”

For the fourth game in a row, Cleveland State forced significant foul trouble to opposing frontcourt players, with leading scorer Jazmyn Turner and highly-touted freshman Brianna Wooldridge bearing the brunt of things on Sunday. Both players ended the game on four fouls (Turner’s were drawn entirely by Brittni Moore), causing something of a revolving door in the Jaguars’ post.

Although it probably didn’t matter, given the way Ngwafang played.

Regardless of who was defending, Ngwafang put together one of the best games of her life, equaling a career high with 25 points on 11-for-13 shooting, all of it from her customary spot on the low block. Ngwafang added a team-high seven rebounds, giving her a compelling conference player of the week case with 41 points and 22 rebounds over CSU’s two games, including that win over Purdue Fort Wayne.

“I’m just trying to be more consistent,” Ngwafang said. “I’m not trying to overthink anything, I just want to play. I know as the games [left in my career] go down, I have less and less and less games to play my best, so I’m just trying to take it one game at a time and give it my best.”

“We were just playing regular basketball. I think we did a good job executing what we were meant to do.”

Moore rounded out the Vikings’ double-digit scorers with 15 points and six rebounds, while the home team enjoyed colossal advantages in two of their usual difference makers, points in the paint (46-26) and points off turnovers (25-8).

“It was a team that was really ready to play, playing really hard.” Kielsmeier said. “If they can get themselves to that level, they’re tough to beat.”

With the win, Cleveland State now has defeated each of its Horizon League opponents during the most recent meeting between the programs. That distinction is obviously on the line constantly during conference play, and it will receive a stern test next week when Milwaukee and Green Bay – a team with its own score to settle, as the Vikings thumped the Phoenix in the Horizon League semifinals last year – make their annual trips to the Wolstein Center.

However, with the way that Cleveland State is playing right now, it’s hard to believe that this is what any opposing team wants.

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