Cleveland State’s return to Woodling Gymnasium on Wednesday afternoon, a 62-57 victory over Austin Peay in the team’s opening game of the Viking Invitational, was a throwback effort worthy of a building constructed in 1973 and largely notable today as the home of the Vikings’ wrestling team.
Call it a defensive struggle, call it a rock fight, or call it ugly (all three probably apply to some extent), whatever it was pivoted decisively in CSU’s favor during the third quarter. That period that saw the home team, clad in white retro jerseys with a script “Vikings” across the chest, hold the Governors to only a pair of Shamarre Hale free throws during the first 8:40 after the teams left their locker rooms and climbed a flight of stairs to begin the second half.
Meanwhile, Colbi Maples led a Cleveland State charge that saw a 31-26 Austin Peay halftime lead turn into a 41-33 Vikings advantage at one point.
Maples scored six points during the 15-2 run, en route to a 21-point effort that also included a pair of steals. After 20 minutes of mostly-stagnant offense from her team – CSU didn’t score during the last 3:43 of the second quarter – the Grambling transfer felt that it was time to activate.
“I have to pick and choose the right moments to attack, so I can draw the defense, put them back on the bench, or get my teammates open shots,” she said. “Their guards are really tough to get around, and then they’re big on the perimeter, they really contest a lot of shots. When you draw fouls, it makes it a little easier to get them off the paint or get them on the bench.”
“We’re doing a good job as a program of getting her into space, and she’s doing a really good job of being able to know when to attack that space,” Vikings head coach Chris Kielsmeier explained.
As usual, Cleveland State’s defense was integral to shifting the contest’s gravity. The Vikings forced nine turnovers during the third quarter alone, after the Govs committed six during the entire first half.
“We just defended, and we really defended possessions out, and got some turnovers,” Kielsmeier said. “We scored eleven points off of turnovers in that third quarter, and that was the difference in the game. That’s how we make runs on teams, we grind out those stops, we force turnovers here and there that get some runout layups, and we execute really well offensively. That’s exactly what we did that entire third quarter.”
“A switch we had in the third quarter, we really forced a lot of turnovers,” Maples added. “That’s really where our game is, getting up and down with turnovers and getting points off the turnovers.”
The strong third period was just enough to survive a late Govs push that cut Cleveland State’s lead from a peak of ten early in the fourth quarter down to five with 1:48 remaining, thanks to a Tiya Douglas three-pointer. APSU successfully used a full-court press to turn the Vikings over three times during the contest’s final minutes while piecing together a 7-for-13 shooting effort over the fourth quarter.
“We won the game in the third quarter, and then basically just survived in the fourth,” Kielsmeier said. “We made all kinds of mistakes on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter, turning it over, not making free throws, a lot of things that you have to do better to close out a game.”
Destiny Leo scored eight of her game-high 22 points during the last period, including four free throws down the stretch, to help keep things from veering into disaster. Brooklynn Fort-Davis added eight points and five rebounds during the contest.
On the other side of things Hale, a former Horizon League rival of the Vikings at Wright State, led APSU with 17 points and six rebounds in just 16:30 on the floor, part of a relentless effort by the Govs to attack over the top of Cleveland State’s 2-3 zone. Guard Anala Nelson, who bucketed 21 points in Austin Peay’s upset of Kentucky on November 14th, was held to just 1-for-3 from the floor while committing four turnovers.
Though Kielsmeier was satisfied to improve to 3-1 this season, he knows that upcoming challenges will require a more thorough effort in both games and practices.
“We didn’t prepare very well,” he said. “We didn’t have a very good practice on Monday or Tuesday. I thought their focus was really good, but we didn’t put enough of it into prep on the court. We’ve gotta learn from that. We’re struggling to find our identity and how we really want to play to win games.”
“It says a lot about this team to beat a really good basketball team and play that poorly. We’ve gotta get better, quickly.”
“Quickly” is quite literal in this case, as Cleveland State will play two more games at their home multi-team event this weekend, including a meeting with Chicago State on Friday, following by a clash with Kansas City on Saturday.