Chris Kielsmeier’s 500th career coaching win was an offensive masterclass from his Cleveland State Vikings, as CSU scorched Detroit Mercy for 107 points while shooting 61.3 percent from the floor on Thursday night.
His 501st was significantly different, at least for 20 minutes, as the Vikings connected on a whopping four field goals in the first half at Oakland’s Athletics Center O’rena on Saturday (out of 19 attempts), staggering to a 27-26 halftime deficit against a high-effort Golden Grizzlies team that was only marginally better at hitting shots.
“It’s Cleveland State vs. Cleveland State,” Kielsmeier said. “We just have to play well, and when we play well, we have a chance to be successful. We didn’t play very well in the first half. You hit four shots in 20 minutes, it doesn’t matter how many free throws you get, you’ve gotta hit shots and make plays. We missed a lot of layups, we had some open threes.”
“It was an ugly, really highly-competitive basketball game. [Oakland] can make the game messy and ugly, and I think they like playing that way.”
So naturally, just as Kielsmeier and everyone in the building expected, Cleveland State went on to score 46 points in the second half, cruising to a relatively comfortable 72-51 victory to improve to 19-3 overall and 10-2 in the Horizon League. The result pushed the Vikings to a 4-0 regular season mark against the Horizon League’s two metropolitan Detroit entries after winning the quartet of games over Oakland and Detroit Mercy by a combined 142 points.
Perhaps no player was a better representative of CSU’s first-half struggles, and second-half surge, than Amele Ngwafang. Ngwafang scored three points in the opening two quarters, thanks in part to a 1-for-6 effort from the free throw line. However, by the midway point of the third quarter, she had nine points, seven rebounds, a pair of steals and a pretty assist to Brittni Moore, ultimately finishing with 12 points and 12 rebounds. The outburst was part of a 15-5 start to the frame that pivoted the visitors into the driver’s seat for good.
“She got rattled in the first half, and she let things that shouldn’t bother her, bother her,” Kielsmeier said, alluding to a technical foul call against his star post player after taking contact from Alexis Johnson during the second quarter. “That’s something she knows she has to focus on and get better with, and she went out and played really hard in the second half, rebounded really well, and got to the free throw line a lot.”
“I’m still calling stuff for her,” he added. “I’m never not going to give the ball to her because I know she can make plays, and I know she can make free throws, she’s just gotta believe in herself and go get it done.”
She wasn’t the only Viking to become more than a casual acquaintance with the cream-colored two-inch stripe in the O’rena.
CSU was boosted mightily by their ability to draw fouls, as the Grizzlies committed 34 infractions, leading to 46 Vikings free throw attempts. Only one Oakland player, Aaliyah McQueen – who was only on the floor for four minutes – ended the contest with fewer than three whistles as the parade to the line resulted in 29 Cleveland State points. Destiny Leo, despite not hitting a field goal until the third quarter, finished with a team-high 23 points thanks mostly to her spotless 12-for-12 free throw mark. Moore was also perfect from the charity stripe, going 6-for-6 on the way to 15 points.
“We’re going to go there, you’re going to have to stop us,” Kielsmeier said. “That’s the way we play, that’s the way we work year-round, and that’s the system. We understand that teams are going to be physical with us and try to do things that are going to get us out of our best, and we have to show that we can lock in and handle anything that’s thrown at us and really just control what we can control.”
“That was a great second-half performance.”
Star freshman point guard Brooke Quarles-Daniels paced Oakland with 14 points and eight rebounds, though CSU held two of the Golden Grizzlies’ other stars, Johnson and Breanne Beatty, to a combined five field goals in 24 attempts.
With the victory, the Vikings concluded their second-longest road swing of the regular season with a 3-1 mark, and will return to the Wolstein Center next week to host Robert Morris and Youngstown State, before a non-conference game against Chicago State on February 7th.
“We’ve been on the road for two weeks, and there’s a lot of factors you can say that made this challenging on one hand,” Kielsmeier said. “On the other hand, you just gotta find a way, and that’s what we ultimately did.”