Vikings batter through Drexel to sweep Fort Myers trip

Photo: Cleveland State Athletics

Thanks to 20 points by Colbi Maples and 18 more from Jordana Reisma, Cleveland State defeated Drexel 69-59 on Thursday afternoon, in the Vikings’ final game of both the Homewood Suites Classic in Fort Myers, Fla. and the 2023-24 non-conference schedule.

Ultimately, it’s probably a good thing that the contest was not broadcast or streamed by any outlet, leaving CSU’s personnel, now 11-2 (2-0 Horizon League) free to tell people that their 69 points came through a series of logo threes and crisply-executed sets. In reality, it was more or less the opposite of that: gritty points near the basket with a toll paid in bruises.

Though Maples accounted for the Vikings’ first six tallies of the contest on a pair of three-pointers, she would only collect one field goal the rest of the way. Her other 12 points came on 14 free throw attempts, generally after being flattened on drives to the basket.

“Colbi’s still learning how she can play in our system,” head coach Chris Kielsmeier said. “She can attack that basket and make some crazy athletic, kind of ‘wow’ shots. What we’ve worked on with her is power and pop, and when you’ve got space, even if it’s a little bit of space, drive into that space hard and aggressive to the basket.”

“There’s a reason we shoot so many free throws. It’s something we teach, our kids take a tremendous amount of pride in it, but you’ve gotta be physical. You’ve gotta want contact.”

Reisma knows a thing or two about physicality and contact as well. After notching a double-double in CSU’s Homewood Suites Classic opener versus Southern Miss on Wednesday, the 6-3 sophomore hauled in nine rebounds against Drexel. Five of those caroms came on the offensive end, contributing heavily to her nine made field goals. Other times, the Vikings were successfully able to go over the top of the Dragons’ zone to find Reisma open behind the defense.

“Jordana had the best week of basketball of her life, most likely,” Kielsmeier said, before admitting that he hasn’t seen every week of basketball that his starting post player has ever played. “She stepped up big time. She was disappointed with how she played in the Iowa game, but you challenge players and you want to see how they’re going to respond. She responded, and hopefully this is a springboard for her to feel like this is what she’s capable of doing consistently.”

After a tight first quarter, Cleveland State finally managed to separate a bit from the Dragons in the final eight minutes before halftime. A Sara Guerreiro triple gave the Vikings the lead for good at 22-19 with 7:44 remaining, before five Maples free throws and a pair of Reisma two-footers helped CSU take a 35-25 lead into the locker room.

Though that ten-point margin frequently crept towards 20 throughout the second half, it seemed as if the Philadelphians managed to find some quick points each time they needed them to keep the contest in some doubt. Those primarily came through three-pointers, and primarily off of the hands of grad student Brooke Mullin. Mullin – a former Villanova player who also opposed Cleveland State at the NCAA Tournament in March – went 6-for-11 from deep and finished with 20 points. In all, DU connected on 12 treys, representing 36 of their 59 points.

“That three-point line for us has been a concern,” Kielsmeier admitted. “We have not defended that consistently the way we need to. We were trying to squeeze down on the high post today because we knew they were trying to go in there, but they’re not an elite three-point-shooting team, and they got 31 attempts on us. That’s a problem. Everybody tracks the makes, but we track the attempts. You’re getting 31 shots up on us from the outside, that perimeter rotation is not good enough.”

Regardless, Kielsmeier’s team finished what he’s often called the toughest non-conference schedule in program history with a 9-2 mark, a source of pride for the sixth-year Vikings boss.

“You’ve gotta give our players a lot of credit,” he said. “You’ve gotta give our coaching staff a lot of credit, putting the scouts together and coaching kids hard. I’m just so stinking proud of everybody in our program. This was not easy, and our players found a way to make it happen.”

Though Cleveland State has navigated the likes of Iowa, Bowling Green and Southern Miss as well as could reasonably be expected, more difficulty awaits following the Christmas break, when CSU heads on the always-brutal Horizon League road trip to Green Bay and Milwaukee, beginning with the Phoenix on December 30th.

Kielsmeier hopes his team can develop some of the consistency that it’s been missing by then.

“Our potential and ceiling, I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s a lot higher than how we’re playing right now, he said. “But we’re practicing hard, the players are extremely focused, and we’ve just gotta continue to work on trying to play consistent for longer periods of time.”

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