Depth players surface as Vikings run Chicago State

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Aminata Ly scored a career-high 16 points and added four rebounds as Cleveland State demolished Chicago State 88-49 in the Vikings’ final non-conference tune-up of the season on Tuesday afternoon in the Wolstein Center.

With the victory, CSU (Cleveland State throughout this post) is now 22-3 overall, while remaining tied for first place in the Horizon League standings at 12-2 in conference play.

Following something of a slow start, including three Vikings turnovers and an offensive foul in the contest’s opening minutes, that produced a 7-5 Chicago State lead, the Vikings went on a 13-0 run that reached into the second period. The surge, which was highlighted by a Deja Williams buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the first quarter, essentially signaled the end of the affair’s status as a competitive contest.

By halftime CSU led by 21, and the lead touched 50 points by the fourth quarter, momentarily threatening the program’s record margin against a Division I opponent (56, established only in December against Detroit Mercy), though the Cougars scored 18 points over the final 7:30 to reduce the magnitude of the blowout to just under 40.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” senior forward Brittni Moore admitted. “There is less pressure, so there can be a tendency to relax and not come out playing our best, but at the same time it is a good game to kind of space it out, give us a mental break, and work on some things we need to get better on.”

That nature of the game allowed the Vikings plenty of lineup flexibility, as Gabriella Smith was the only regular CSU starter to top 20 minutes on the court. Ly, Sara Guerreiro, Shadiya Thomas and Carmen Villalobos all received extensive work as every available Cleveland State player scored at least seven points except for Villalobos, though the Spanish Hartford transfer grabbed 12 rebounds and dished off eight assists.

“Carmen just played her tail off tonight, she was all over the court,” head coach Chris Kielsmeier said.

Beyond Ly and Villalobos, Thomas was another of the Vikings’ standouts. The former juco national champion was on the court for a season-high 16:33 and knocked down three shots, including a three-pointer and a nasty finish off a crossover move. Every positive play she made was announced with a roar from her teammates on the bench.

“She’s one of my best friends on the team, but she works really hard and sacrifices,” Moore said. “And what we were doing for her is what she does for us every game. We have a very deep bench. Playing time is always a struggle, considering we have so many talented girls, but it was really fun to watch them do their thing.”

“Sometimes when you’re trying to play 12 players an equal and fair amount of minutes throughout the course of the year, sometimes that can become really challenging,” Kielsmeier added. “We had a plan today as a staff that we really wanted to disperse those minutes out, try to look at some different combinations and some different things. We had Jordana and Mina [Ly] on the floor together in the last three minutes, which hasn’t happened once the whole year.”

Chicago State was a late addition to the schedule, as the matchup was only announced on December 22nd. Kielsmeier cited an aborted game at Niagara – scheduled for November 19th but canceled due to a snowstorm in Western New York, and never rescheduled – as the motivation for throwing in the meeting the with the Cougars.

“You want your kids to play a full schedule,” he explained. “Players love to play, right? Coach [Bob] Dunn and the coaching staff went to work on trying to find a needle in a haystack, of trying to find something that makes sense. There’s not nearly as many teams looking for games this year as there has been the last couple years.”

“The amount of time and effort to making something like this come to fruition is a lot. Our administration had to tape all of the lines down to get the court game ready, there’s just so much that goes into it behind the scenes,” Kielsmeier added, alluding to the fact that the game was played on the hardwood typically used by the Cleveland Charge G League team, thanks to the quick turnaround between events involving the two Wolstein Center tenants, and the court needed to have NCAA markings added. “I’m so thankful and appreciative of being able to work at a place that wants to do things the right way, and they don’t look at things as being difficult or a hinderance, it’s ‘let’s get it done, and do it well, and have a lot of fun doing it.’ That’s really just the epitome of all Vikings.”

Cleveland State will now close the regular season with six more Horizon League games, beginning on Saturday at IUPUI, and as a regular season championship is well within reach. That accomplishment, however, would likely involve beating Northern Kentucky and Green Bay, the two teams that have downed the Vikings in conference play.

“We’re just focused on closing, learning from our mistakes that cost us the game here against Green Bay and at NKU, and just sharpening our tools, sharpening what we know we do well, and fixing what we know we need to do better,” Moore said.

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