Cleveland State dominated Kansas City 82-55 on Saturday to finish a three-game sweep of the Viking Invitational field for the second consecutive season and improve to 5-1 overall; however, the contest saw what most would consider CSU’s worst nightmare: an injury to superstar Destiny Leo.
Leo, who began the game in a mask after a knock to the face on Friday against Chicago State, first went down with 1:38 to go in the first quarter, following a foul on a drive to the basket by Kansas City’s Zaire Harrell. She made it up and off under her own power after that incident, but wasn’t as lucky after re-entering the game midway through the second quarter. While playing defense in front of the Vikings’ bench, Leo once again fell to the court and was subsequently unable to put weight on her right leg.
“You’re not going to pull Destiny Leo out of a game. Her whole mindset, that’s the way she thinks,” head coach Chris Kielsmeier said of Leo’s re-entry into the game after the Harrell foul.
“Destiny got hurt in the first quarter, and that’s really all I know right now,” he added, confirming that the injury was to his leading scorer’s right leg. “We’ll hope for the best.”
If not for that extremely large black cloud hovering over the proceedings, it would be reasonable to say that just about everything else went right for the Vikings.
With Leo out, Mickayla Perdue was utilized heavily, a season-high 29:11 in all. Though she was attempting to replace the irreplaceable, Perdue nevertheless offered much of the same long-range ability, shiftiness while navigating the paint, and defensive disruption. All three of those qualities contributed to her 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting, along with three assists.
“I’m always prepared, no matter what happens, I’m always prepared to come on the court and do what I’m supposed to do,” Perdue said. “My teammates were getting me the looks, especially Colbi in transition, she was getting me those transition buckets.”
As Perdue mentioned, Colbi Maples, her backcourt running mate for most of the contest, added a game-high 17 points, a game-high seven assists, and a game-high four steals. The two consistently fed off of each other, turning defense into offense for quick points as the Vikings steadily grew a 42-31 halftime lead – including by scoring the first nine points of the third quarter, before adding a 10-0 run later in the frame to definitively break things open.
“We just had to rally together and understand that we need to get stops on defense and execute on offense,” Maples said. “And to get stops on defense, we had to make sure we rebounded, so that was our main focus coming back in to fill the gap [of Leo’s absence]. We obviously needed to step up, play our game, not force things, and be under control.”
“At halftime, we were talking about picking it up defensively,” Perdue added. “Our defense wasn’t firing like it usually does, that was the main focus at halftime. We came out in the second half and the defense was firing, we were getting rebounds, we were getting stops, we were turning them over, and that led to good offense.”
Wyoming transfer Grace Ellis also contributed heavily in her 26 minutes of action, knocking down a trio of corner three-pointers for nine points. Cleveland State managed to get its post game working as well as it has all season to this point, as evidenced by Jordana Reisma’s first career double-double. The 6-3 sophomore scored 14 points and added ten rebounds, while also drawing five fouls.
The Vikings shot 51.6 percent from the floor, scored 46 points in the paint against 20 for the Roos, won the fast-break point count by a staggering 23-0, and grabbed 14 steals to check off a bunch of the metrics favored within the program. It all sounds pretty great, and yet…
“We’re a different team than what we were last year, and we’ve struggled to find continuity and be playing well on both ends of the floor,” Kielsmeier said while answering a question about the imminent Horizon League schedule, but sounding more like he was addressing the Leo injury. “We’ve had moments where we’ve looked like we’re going to be a great basketball team – we are a great basketball team – so I hope our players can see that, and feel that, and know that. We’ve gotta keep working.”
“One through 13 we’ve got really good players, and everyone can have their moment and their opportunity to impact the game in a significant way. You’ve just gotta work hard and be ready. We’ve got really good players, and the more they get to play, and the more confidence they get, the more they’re just going to show who they really are as playmakers. We’re ready. “