Destiny Leo delivered one of the best games with her career with 31 points – including an 8-for-11 mark from three-point range, as Cleveland State ripped Wright State 103-72 on Friday night at WSU’s Nutter Center.
With the victory, the Vikings shook off the disappointment of the demise of their program-record 16-game winning streak last Saturday against Green Bay to improve to 17-2 overall and 8-1 in the Horizon League.
Leo and her teammates served notice of their impending offensive domination from the opening tip, as the junior sniper scored CSU’s first eight points of the game, while the green and white were met with only cursory resistance from the Wright State defense. In fact, discounting an empty Amele Ngwafang trip to the free throw line, WSU managed just one true stop during the opening quarter, a missed three by Deja Williams with 3:12 to go.
The outburst was the fourth 30-point game of Leo’s career, with the most recent of those being her personal-best 35 in last season’s WBI championship game, a loss to Saint Mary’s.
“I challenged her with her focus,” CSU head coach Chris Kielsmeier said. “It’s a long season, and the power of the mind and mental prep is something we talk about a lot in our program. I think a lot of our players slipped out of where they needed to be to give themselves a chance to be at their best. I challenged her last night with it, and I thought that from a mental prep standpoint today, she had the best day of the year.”
“It doesn’t surprise me that she went out and did what she did today, because she’s got that ability, and she got some looks and got going.”
In all, the Vikings shot 70.6 percent from the floor during the contest’s first ten minutes, including 4-for-5 from three-point range, on the way to 32 points. While CSU didn’t quite match that heater the rest of the way, they still wound up with 36 made field goals on 65 attempts, a 55.4 percent clip. A 15-0 second quarter run pushed Cleveland State’s lead to 49-19 and the game into rout territory.
Though the Cleveland State advantage eventually touched 44 points late in the third quarter, the Raiders did manage to stay afloat at times – including a 22-13 fourth quarter against the Vikings’ bench – through the three pointer. In all, WSU hit 18 perfectly-distributed triples (a new single-game school record), with Cara VanKempen, Isabelle Bolender, Bryce Nixon, Kacee Baumhower, Lauren Scott and Channing Chappell each connecting three times.
“They ran a five-out and spread us,” Kielsmeier said. “That’s not easy to defend against a zone, and it’s something we didn’t prep heavy for, because they hadn’t run a lot of that this year. Some of those things are on the coaches, on me, we can coach that better. It was good game planning and good execution by them.
“But it’s the end of January and we sure as hell don’t want to be giving up 18 threes against anybody, and we’ve got to get that perimeter defense fixed.”
Ultimately though, WSU’s bomb squad was overwhelmed by a Viking raid that included four double-digit scorers beyond Leo, thanks largely to a 50-14 points advantage in the paint: Brittni Moore (15 points), Jordana Reisma (11), Sara Guerreiro (11), and Ngwafang (10). Ngwafang grabbed nine rebounds to pace the visitors, while Gabriella Smith’s six assists also contributed to CSU’s best point total since December 18, 2021 against Ohio Christian.
“We worked hard to get better this week,” Kielsmeier said. “We felt like, as a staff, we didn’t go hard enough last week, and kind of contributed to how we played [against Green Bay]. We went back to work this week, and we had some really intense, competitive, physical practices, and it’s great to see the hard work coming to fruition.”
“We didn’t play great tonight in some aspects of the game, and there’s still things we gotta tighten up and get better with. But it’s the season of execution and getting things done, i.e. winning. And that’s what we did tonight.”
Cleveland State will wrap up its weekend swing through the Greater Cincinnati area on Sunday with a match against Northern Kentucky. Tipoff from NKU’s Truist Arena is scheduled for 1:00 P.M.