Near-flawless first half powers Cleveland State to fourth straight victory

Photo: Cleveland State Athletics

With 2:09 left in the first quarter at Woodling Gym on Friday afternoon, Chicago State’s Yzabelle Laualfola Tevao connected on a turnaround jumper from just outside of the paint.

The Cougars’ ZiKeyah Carter split a pair of free throws 11 seconds into the second quarter.

Then, 1:36 before halftime, Jacia Cunningham knocked down a shot from the baseline. Carter added two more free throws 30 seconds later, and Cunningham hit another jumper after another half minute had elapsed.

And that was the entirety of Chicago State’s first half scoring, as Cleveland State jogged downstairs to the locker room with a you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it 48-9 lead, on the way to a 95-41 victory in their second game of the Viking Invitational.

Though the nine points against were the most obvious representation of the home team’s defensive dominance during the contest’s first 20 minutes, there were plenty of other supporting statistics: Cleveland State held the Cougars to 3-for-24 from the floor, forced 16 turnovers, and out-rebounded their guests 31-14.

“Our defense was really flying today,” guard Mickayla Perdue said. “I think that everybody was locked in, everybody knew what we had to do with our defense and just getting it firing. I think it fired pretty good today.”

“That’s who we are. Defend, rebound, run,” head coach Chris Kielsmeier quickly added.

On the other side of the court, Destiny Leo led Cleveland State with 17 points in just 11 minutes of work during a game that was more or less decided as soon as the Vikings jumped out to a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter, prior to Tevao finally breaking the shutout. Perdue added 14 points and four steals, consistently showing flashes of the explosiveness that made the Glenville State transfer one of the Vikings’ more exciting offseason pickups.

“When I get my opportunity, I go out there and give my 100 percent,” she said. “I think I went out there and did that today, and it showed.”

Faith Burch contributed 12 points and ten rebounds, while Paulina Hernandez notched 13 tallies. In a contest where every one of his players collected at least one bucket and played at least eight minutes, Kielsmeier found those two stat lines particularly encouraging.

“We got a lot of areas of improvement today, and one of the areas we haven’t really talked about yet is our high-low game offensively,” he said. “We got the ball inside more, it’s really been kind of stagnant early, the timing’s been off with it.”

Despite a 54-point margin of victory that trailed only last season’s 56-point thumping of Detroit Mercy as Cleveland State’s largest-ever win against a Division I opponent, Kielsmeier was somewhat less enthusiastic about Chicago State’s 32 second-half points.

“I didn’t like the way we played in the second half, on either end of the floor,” he said. “We fouled too much, we gave up too many rebounds, we turned it over, we didn’t turn them over. A lot of stuff in the second half that we weren’t doing in the first half.”

“In a game like that with the point totals, you can talk as much as you want about not playing to the scoreboard, but we know that can be a challenge.”

The victory was Kielsmeier’s 100th since taking over at Cleveland State in 2018, though he immediately deflected praise to two assistant coaches who have been on the staff for his entire tenure.

“I think a lot more of the credit should go to Coach Fro [Jerro] and Coach Shelby [Zoeckler],” he said. “They’ve been by my side from day one. In this day and age where continuity and loyalty, those words really don’t exist nearly as much in college athletics as they used to, I really enjoyed giving the game balls to those two after the game.”

“The head coach gets way too much credit and way too much criticism. There’s a lot of people who do a lot of things to make a program be successful. Those two have been through a lot with me to get this program where it is.”

Kielsmeier, Jerro and Zoeckler will aim for win number 101 together on Saturday afternoon at 4:00 PM against Kansas City. A result against the Roos would give Cleveland State a second consecutive Viking Invitational sweep, after CSU defeated St. Bonaventure, Georgia State and Bellarmine in last year’s inaugural event.

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