|Purdue Fort Wayne
Sometimes it’s hard to construct power rankings given the bevy of often-conflicting game results that pile up as the season progresses, but when Cleveland State has defeated every other Horizon League team in their most recent meeting, that at least makes the top spot simple. CSU’s win on Sunday, the one that clinched that round-robin factoid, was among the most impressive of their now-fifteen-game winning streak: a 92-59 destruction of IUPUI that ended an 11-game on-court skid to the Jaguars. Continuing a trend that’s become particularly prominent over the last couple weeks, the Vikings were absolutely dominant in the post, especially Amele Ngwafang, who matched her career high with 25 points against the Jags (following up a 16-point, 15-rebound effort against Purdue Fort Wayne on Friday). Destiny Leo has gone about her ruthlessly-efficient business as well, with Brittni Moore, Jordana Reisma, and Deja Williams excelling in their respective supporting roles.
It was a bit stunning how thoroughly Green Bay dismantled Northern Kentucky on Saturday, a ninth straight victory for the Phoenix. The effort was vintage Green Bay: heavily-distributed offense with four double-digit scorers (though Cassie Schiltz led the way with 18 points), and a suffocating half-court defense that shut down NKU stars Lindsey Duvall (four points) and Kailee Davis (seven points). Does the 70-53 result say more about the Phoenix or the Norse? That answer is probably somewhere in the middle (it usually is), but regardless, Kevin Borseth’s squad has been an absolute wagon of late. Sydney Levy led the team with 19 points in a deceptively-scored 72-51 result against Wright State on Thursday, one that saw the Raiders held to zero points over the final eight minutes while the Phoenix pulled away.
Youngstown State went to Michigan last week and pounded Detroit Mercy, then survived a comeback by an Oakland team that seems to have the Penguins’ number for whatever reason, ultimately getting the clutch plays (and stops) needed to prevail in overtime. Though it hasn’t always been a work of art, YSU has still only lost to Cleveland State in their last 11 games and sits at 5-1 in the conference. Lilly Ritz was the difference against the Golden Grizzlies, scoring 18 of the team’s 68 points while pulling in 17 rebounds (her 10.9 rebounds per game this season rank 15th in the country), though Megan Callahan also made a ton of big plays down the stretch. Emily Saunders broke out for a career-high 18 points against the Titans (while Ritz, Callahan and Paige Shy all added 13 or more), proving that YSU’s post play isn’t a one-woman show.
Although IUPUI had to eat it at the Wolstein Center on Sunday, there’s no denying that the Jaguars remain a solid team – wins over Northern Kentucky and Milwaukee, along with a five-point loss to Green Bay, are a larger sample than one clunker afternoon against a team that presents multiple bad matchups for most. Even in a blowout loss and while limited by foul trouble, Jazmyn Turner managed 16 points in just 15 minutes against CSU to solidify herself as one of the better frontcourt players in the conference, and veterans Destiny Perkins and Rachel Kent are certainly proven commodities as well. Kate Bruce’s team makes the dreaded Wisconsin trip at the end of the month but prior to that, the Jags have road games against Robert Morris and Youngstown State and then home games against Detroit Mercy and Oakland (a stretch that should result in at least three wins) to try and get back on track.
What is Northern Kentucky? On one hand, the Norse are a team that has a leading conference player of the year candidate in Duvall, a reliable and experienced point guard in Ivy Turner, and an emerging star in Davis to go with defensive stalwarts like Khamari Mitchell-Steen and Emmy Souder. They’re capable of some pretty big things together, like battering a top-150 Cincinnati team a couple weeks ago. On the other hand, NKU is a somewhat-underwhelming 9-6, most of their wins outside of the Bearcats don’t withstand a ton of scrutiny, and the Norse is also 0-6 against their best mid-major opponents, including Youngstown State, IUPUI, and Green Bay within the Horizon League. The Phoenix wrecked Camryn Whitaker’s squad on Saturday, holding Duvall and Davis to a combined 3-for-18 from the floor. Davis was much better than that in a comeback win over Milwaukee on Thursday, firing home five three-pointers on the way to a game-high 26 points.
Milwaukee split their trip to Northern Kentucky and Wright State last week, but it’s not hard to see that the Panthers have continued to grow into something beyond what they were at the beginning of the year. Case in point: freshman guard Kamy Peppler has started to come into her own, scoring 33 points over the two games while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Peppler, who hadn’t scored more than ten points in her young career before the two recent games, joined with a similarly-emergent Kendall Nead and steady Jada Donaldson in a three-guard lineup backing frontcourt stars Megan Walstad and Emma Wittmershaus. While it’s far too early to hypothesize that Kyle Rechlicz’s offense is solved, continued production from that group will go a long way. UWM visits Cleveland State on Thursday in their next opportunity to see how they stack up with the top of the league.
It’s hard to explain why Oakland plays Youngstown State so well given the turnover on the Golden Grizzlies’ roster and coaching staff, but that’s continued to be the case this year for a team that stunned the regular season co-champion Penguins in the Horizon League quarterfinals last March (and took two of three games against YSU overall), as OU rallied but fell in overtime on Saturday. In fact, the Grizzlies were led by two players who weren’t on the team last year in transfer Alexis Johnson (18 points, six rebounds, five steals) and freshman point guard Brooke Daniels (18 points, four rebounds, four assists). Neither of those players ended up taking the shot, however, when Oakland had the last possession both at the end of regulation and the end of overtime – more a credit to YSU’s outstanding defense than anything else. Johnson, Daniels, Linda Van Schaik, and Breanne Beatty all scored in double figures during a solid win over Robert Morris on Thursday.
Although they took two losses – in two extremely tough games, it should be said – Purdue Fort Wayne had moments where they looked impressive versus both IUPUI and Cleveland State. Against the Jags, the Mastodons led by seven at halftime and continued to seem like a decent bet to pull off an upset until a quick 8-0 IUPUI run midway through the fourth quarter. Shayla Sellers was a monster in that contest, breaking out for 23 points, six rebounds, four steals, and three blocks, while Sylare Starks hit four threes to lead a long-distance barrage against the Vikings on Friday. However, Amellia Bromenschenkel, who remains the Dons’ leading scorer with 12.3 points per game, was held to just two total last week (and four in the game immediately prior to that, at Youngstown State), continuing a trend where PFW just can’t seem to fire on all cylinders at once.
Robert Morris is in free fall at this point, losing seven of their last eight games after starting the season 6-1 (the win in the recent skid was a 63-39 domination of St. Bonaventure that seems like a ridiculous outlier right now). Thanks to program departures and injuries to Sol Castro and now possibly Paris Kirk, the Colonials are down to just nine healthy players, and those nine players were swept on their trip to the Detroit area last weekend, including a 12-point defeat to Oakland and a six-point loss to Detroit Mercy. The team’s extremely stout defense has taken a major hit too, as the Colonials have now given up 70 or more points in three consecutive games after not allowing 70 against a mid-major opponent all season prior to that. Phoenix Gedeon bounced back with 20 points and 14 rebounds against the Golden Grizzlies, though she was held to four points two days later as Alejandra Mastral and Mackenzie Amalia carried the load.
Did you see Detroit Mercy’s third win of the season coming this weekend? I certainly didn’t. But come it did, and in rather impressive fashion. The Titans built up a 53-39 lead on Robert Morris late in the third quarter before going ice cold and scoring exactly one point over the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter. The Colonials eventually took a 55-54 lead with 2:38 to go on an Amalia three, and nobody could be blamed for assuming that UDM was mid-collapse at that point, given how things have gone for them over the last few years. But abruptly, the Titans got off the mat and scored the next eight points of the game, highlighted by a tough Ana Cabañas drive to beat the shot clock and essentially seal the result. Amaya Burch had 18 points and 16 rebounds and should receive strong consideration for the Horizon League’s weekly awards.
Frankly, I feel bad about dropping Wright State back to 11th this week because the Raiders handled themselves pretty well in losing home games to Green Bay and Milwaukee. Against the Phoenix, a pair of Kacee Baumhower threes had WSU within one or two possessions at most points late in the third quarter. Then, a Lauren Scott triple with 7:36 to go trimmed the score back to within 58-51 before the Raiders, uh, didn’t score for the rest of the game. Two days later against the Panthers, Wright State followed the opposite script in going down by ten early on before ultimately losing by 11. WSU is now 1-15 overall – and the win came against an NAIA school – but it still doesn’t feel like the Raiders are that far off from at least grabbing a victory or two against DI competition.
Player of the Week
Amele Ngwafang (Cleveland State)
In an extremely-crowded field (including at least three freshmen who should get a look beyond the award reserved for rookies), the difference was ultimately Ngwafang’s headlining role in the conference’s most eye-popping result of the week, as well as her consistency across both games she played.
Also considered: Destiny Leo (Cleveland State), Lilly Ritz (Youngstown State), Amaya Burch (Detroit Mercy), Brooke Daniels (Oakland), Alexis Johnson (Oakland), Kamy Peppler (Milwaukee), Kendall Nead (Milwaukee)
November 14: Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne)
November 21: Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky)
November 28: Destiny Leo (Cleveland State)
December 5: Malia Magestro (Youngstown State)
December 12: Brittni Moore (Cleveland State)
December 19: Sydney Levy (Green Bay)
December 26: Rachel Kent (IUPUI)
January 2: Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky)