Though “you can’t stop her, you can only hope to contain her” is a cliché to the point that it was a catchphrase of former ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne, it applies quite nicely to Cleveland State’s 71-62 victory over Akron and star forward Reagan Bass on Sunday afternoon in the Wolstein Center.
Bass, who has won the last four player of the week awards in the Mid-American Conference, is one of the best frontcourt players in mid-major basketball. Just ask around the Horizon League, as she scored 33 points and added 16 rebounds in UA’s season opener against Oakland. Nine days later, Robert Morris watched the Strongsville, Ohio native haul in 19 boards alongside 22 points.
So when Jordana Reisma, primarily tasked with the unenviable assignment of defending Bass within the structure of CSU’s zone defense, picked up a gamesheet after her team’s ninth straight victory and saw 18 points and 18 rebounds next to her opponent’s name, she wasn’t happy. But she knew what she saw was good enough.
“Reagan had 18 [rebounds], that’s tough,” Reisma said. “She’s going to be physical, so you have to be physical with her back, and keep her off the boards, box her out. I think we did pretty well with her, she was 4-for-18 [from the floor], but we’ve gotta keep her off the boards and off the free throw line. We had some silly fouls here and there, obviously you can improve and do better at times, but overall, I think it was alright.”
“I thought we did a really good job, we’ve got a lot of size and length, and you’re going to have a hard time being able to score through our post players,” head coach Chris Kielsmeier added, echoing his sophomore’s mixed assessment of the situation. “But if you can consistently attack it deep, good things for them are going to happen, and I didn’t think we did a good enough job with that today. We did a good job with it at times, but we were really inconsistent with it.”
Reisma fell just shy of a double-double with ten points and nine rebounds, along with a pair of blocked shots, in a game that was largely defined by attrition due to foul trouble. By halftime, every big who played prominently had at least two fouls, including Bass, Liisa Taponen and Lanae Riley for Akron, and Reisma and Brooklynn Fort-Davis (who had three) for Cleveland State.
The Vikings were able to tilt the foul situation slightly in their favor over the second half on the way to outscoring Akron in the paint 36-24. Reisma would ultimately foul out with 86 seconds left in the game, but that was well after a dominant stretch of foul-free defense during the third and fourth quarters to help her team keep the game at arm’s length for most of the final 20 minutes.
“You just have to go by the game, the refs were calling it pretty tight, and we just had to adjust,” Reisma said. “We had to continue to keep them off the boards, off the block, they got some deep positions at times, but that was really our focus to get them out of that block.”
As fascinating as the clash of the titans in the paint was, Cleveland State’s victory also came largely though – and off of – the hands of Mickayla Perdue. The senior guard, who has replaced the injured Destiny Leo in the starting lineup for the last four games, enjoyed her best game yet since transferring from Glenville State with a game-high 25 points.
In the Vikings’ first action following the official word that Leo would miss the rest of this season, Perdue constructed her sixth straight contest of at least 13 points, a span where she’s averaged 16.8 points and 2.0 steals per game. And while the 2022-23 Division II leader in three pointers made hadn’t always realized the full impact of that piece of her repertoire, against Akron she connected on four of her nine tries from behind the arc.
A pair of those makes came in particularly high-leverage situations, including one late in the second quarter that helped the Vikings nurse a 34-30 lead into the locker room despite going without a point for a 6:21 stretch that didn’t end until a Perdue bucket tied the score at 22-22 with 5:04 left before halftime. The other, with 3:16 remaining in the game, expanded CSU’s lead to ten after Akron had pulled back within three a couple minutes earlier.
“She’s been playing really well,” Reisma said. “I think she really took into this new role that she has, and she doesn’t let it affect her in any way. If she’s not hitting shots, she’s going to do something else to impact the game.”
Cleveland State shot just 15-for-33 from the free throw line during the afternoon, missing several opportunities to close the game out. On the other hand, the Zips were 20-for-26 from the stripe, a major reason why the southern half of the I-77 rivalry was able to consider victory until the final two minutes. Though the Vikings did enough defensively down the stretch to avoid a dramatic ending, Kielsmeier knows that all facets of his team’s game will need to be tightened up ahead of his team’s most difficult sequence of games during the regular season.
“We’ve gotta make free throws,” he said. “You’ve gotta find your own rhythm with it individually, it’s not something from a practice perspective that you can say ‘hey, we’re going to shoot free throws on Tuesday for an hour,’ you’ve gotta find that from within.”
“I still think we can do some situational things better,” he added, citing an example at the end of the first quarter where the Vikings shot the ball too early before the buzzer and allowed a subsequent Zips runout, ending with a pair of free throws. “We teach situational basketball, end of quarters, end of game, we’re constantly teaching that, and we’re still making simple mistakes with that.”
Managing those micro-situations better will likely be essential to the macro-situation of CSU’s next five games, including the much-anticipated showdown against fourth-ranked Iowa on Saturday. After that, the Vikings will close 2023 with games against very good Southern Mississippi and Drexel teams in Fort Myers, Fla. before resuming conference play with the always-grueling road trip to play Green Bay and Milwaukee.