A clash billed as a potential game-of-the-year candidate wasn’t much of one, as Green Bay rolled into the Wolstein Center on Saturday afternoon and downed Cleveland State 82-65 to assert control of the Horizon League’s standings race.
With the result, the Vikings’ 16-game winning streak passed on to its final resting place, the top line of the program record book, while the team dropped to 16-2 (7-1 HL). UWGB, now the owner of an active 11-game unbeaten run, is 14-3 (7-1 HL).
After a muddled start by both teams, the contest pivoted early on a pair of Callie Genke three-pointers roughly one minute apart, which made the score 12-5 in favor of the Phoenix. A 10-0 run bridging the first and second quarters and highlighted by four points each from Natalie McNeal and Jasmine Kondrakiewicz pushed the score out to 25-11, and CSU was never truly a threat in the contest after that point.
McNeal led the Phoenix with 16 points and eight rebounds, Julia Hartwig scored 14 with ten boards, and Cassie Schiltz added 14 points. Green Bay rode their famously-selfless, pass-heavy offensive scheme to a 54.5 percent rate on field goal attempts, including 11-for-23 from three point range, helping a team not known for offensive explosions to break 80 points for the fourth time this season. In just about every moment where Vikings appeared ready to rally, a UWGB triple was nearby to circumvent the effort.
“You can’t chase the ball. You chase the ball, you’ve giving up shots, and that’s what we did most of the game out of our zone,” Vikings head coach Chris Kielsmeier explained. “We went to man and kind of sped them up and turned them over a few times, and kind of made the game ‘messy,’ is what I like to call it.”
“But almost for every good thing we were doing out of it, we were giving something up out of it as well. It’s hard to play that way and minimize risk, and that’s why we don’t play that way a lot.”
On the other end of the court, Green Bay – the fifth-best team nationally at limiting their opponents’ shooting percentages – held CSU to 30.8 percent from the field. Gabriella Smith was the only Viking that cracked double figures in the scoring column with ten points driven by a pair of threes, while Destiny Leo was held to just 1-for-9 from the floor. The Phoenix also largely stayed away from the turnovers and fouls that provide energy to the Cleveland State offense until the game was decided.
“Today we didn’t hit shots and they did,” Kielsmeier said. “You’ve gotta play well, you’ve gotta play physical against them. We didn’t play well, and we didn’t play physical, and you can give them a lot of credit.”
“I don’t think we played very hard tonight, and I told them that. And, in their own words, they felt that way as well. We didn’t do enough today to win.”
The Vikings did finally locate some measure of success in the fourth quarter, using pressure to chip some of the pop of a Green Bay lead that peaked at 26 points and drive the final differential back down to 17. CSU forced eight turnovers in the final ten minutes and found a few of the easy buckets that eluded them when the game was in doubt, though it mostly served as window dressing.
Losing – something Cleveland State hadn’t done since November 7th – can seemingly deflate an entire building. The greetings are quieter and often silent, the press conference answers are shorter, and the postgame music doesn’t exist. Even Rune, the university’s therapy dog who can often be seen laying just outside of the Vikings’ locker room during home games, looks a bit more forlorn and departs before the team has fully cleared out.
The good news is that the rhythm of a basketball season doesn’t allow those on or adjacent to a team to linger in their feelings for very long. In the Vikings case, that means a road trip to face Wright State and Northern Kentucky next weekend, an opportunity to re-focus and begin a new streak.
And, if all else fails, there’s always Kielsmeier’s ability to take a wide view.
“You take the good with the bad, that’s life,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of good, we’ve impacted a lot of people, we’ve elevated everything about this program. And that didn’t change today. It stings because you had so much momentum, you had a great crowd here, a long line for [postgame] autographs, you’ve got so much momentum, you want to keep that momentum going.”
“It’s really hard to play well all the time. And this group has, for the most part, done a fabulous job with that. But everyone wakes up when they’re playing a game and they want to win, no matter who it is, and we just didn’t have our best today.”