Before Cleveland State tipped off against IUPUI on Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis, the Jaguars played an a cappella version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” identical to the one used prior to games in the Wolstein Center.
Perhaps that was the small piece of home cooking that CSU needed to erase more than 15 years of negative history in The Jungle, as the Vikings dominated the defending Horizon League champions from start to finish with an 83-59 victory to improve to 23-3 overall and 13-2 in conference play. The victory was Cleveland State’s first in the venue since December 5, 2007 and snapped a site losing streak that had reached six games.
Last month, the Vikings ended an 11-game overall on-court losing streak to the Jags, who are now 14-11 (10-6 HL), with a 92-59 thumping at home.
“When you’re trying to build a league-championship level program, you need to beat the teams that you’ve been beating, and you need to find away to beat the teams that you haven’t been beating,” CSU head coach Chris Kielsmeier said. “To sweep IUPUI was significant for us, no doubt.”
Of course, having elite-level players probably helped a bit more in a tough road environment than the pregame music selection.
On Saturday, Destiny Leo led the visitors with 23 points and was nearly unstoppable when she got open looks. The junior connected on four of her five tries from three-point range, part of a 6-for-9 line from the floor that frustrated The Jungle’s public address announcer into silence on her made buckets by the end of the game.
Closer to the hoop, 6-3 post player Jordana Reisma re-defined the term Freshman February – typically used to describe the tendency of rookies to slump once the collegiate season exceeds the length of a typical high school season – by clocking one of her best games at CSU so far, including 14 points, three rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. The scoring total tied a career high originally established on New Year’s Eve at Robert Morris.
“She continues to learn and grow and get better,” Kielsmeier said. “I think the last couple weeks, maybe from a production standpoint she’s been down a little bit and I’ve been a little bit worried about the Freshman February, but she insists that’s not a thing for her, she’s fresh, she’s excited, and she’s ready to go.”
“She’s been a shot blocker all her life, you can tell that,” he continued. “What we’ve tried to do is position her lower body to make it hard for teams to score through her, and she’s just got a knack to go get it without fouling. At really no point in time in understanding the system on both ends of the floor has she acted like a freshman. That’s just how she operates, she’s just a really calm, cool kid.”
Reisma’s shot-altering prowess was a significant piece of a larger defensive effort that thoroughly controlled the Jaguars’ best players all afternoon, as her rotation with Amele Ngwafang helped limit physical IUPUI forward Jazmyn Turner to just four points before fouling out late in the third quarter. Rachel Kent and Destiny Perkins, two veterans who have repeatedly blown up on CSU over the years (including a combined ten threes last January 29th in Indianapolis), were held to just 1-for-10 from long distance, part of IUPUI’s 5-for-21 line from behind the arc as a team.
“Those are kids that have hit a lot of shots on us in the past, and we talked a lot about our prep for this game and if we left them open from the three-point line, we felt like they were going to hit them,” Kielsmeier said. “We made a couple mistakes with them where I think they were left open and they didn’t hit it, but for the most part we did a really good job with them.”
Overall, the Jaguars shot 35.1 percent from the floor, while Barbara Zieniewska’s four steals paced a CSU effort that produced 13 thefts. Gabriella Smith, Carmen Villalobos and Deja Williams each had a pair of takeaways and Smith also added 12 points, highlighted by a buzzer-beating three at the end of the first quarter that served as a major pivot point towards things opening up over the middle two periods.
“They were doing some tough things, they were really trying to cut hard to the basket off the high post,” Kielsmeier said of IUPUI’s offense. “The ball got down on the baseline, they were trying to cut on us, and I felt like we did a really good job of stepping up on those cuts and getting a hand in and trying to get a tip or a deflection. We track deflections – we got 30-some tonight, which is always our goal.”
Cleveland State will now take its newly-minted six game winning streak to Purdue Fort Wayne at 7:00 P.M. on Monday evening to close the third-to-last week of the regular season.