Quite simply, Cleveland State’s 79-37 annihilation of Youngstown State on Saturday afternoon at the Wolstein Center represented the best defense that the Vikings have played all season.
There’s plenty of evidence to support that claim, starting with the Penguins’ paltry scoring total, the fewest points CSU has allowed since December 4, 2022 against Detroit Mercy. YSU only had an Emily Saunders free throw to show for the first 9:32 of the contest, allowing the Vikings to build an 18-1 lead before Malia Magestro knocked down a three-pointer late in the opening frame.
In total, the visitors were just 1-for-15 from the floor in that first quarter, a level of futility nearly matched by their 1-for-12 mark in the third period, and they only barely cleared 20 percent accuracy for the game thanks to a surge during the waning minutes.
Starting guard Colbi Maples believes that her team’s perimeter defense helped produce those ugly ratios.
“I feel like a lot of shots were at the end of the shot clock, I feel like we moved a lot better on the perimeter today,” she said.
Of course, those numbers only account for the times that the Guins managed to get a shot in the air.
The Vikings collected an astounding 19 steals, led by Carmen Villalobos (five), Maples (four), Sara Guerreiro and Shadiya Thomas (three each), a count that exceeded YSU’s total number of made field goals by six. Cleveland State easily cleared its per-game target for deflections as well, a number that isn’t listed in any official statistics, but one that the coaching staff tracks.
“We want it to be in the 30s, and we had 11 in the first quarter, and we had 19 in the third quarter, so we had 30 in two quarters,” head coach Chris Kielsmeier explained. “We want to get our hands on balls, then once the loose ball’s out there, those 50-50 balls, you’ve gotta go win them.”
Maples did a lot to set the tone on the defensive end of the floor, including grabbing three of her steals in the game’s opening three minutes. The first of those was an errant pass that hit her in the back of her arms, but was nevertheless quickly fired ahead to Mickayla Perdue for a layup.
The play was just one of many that helped CSU’s starting backcourt meet its pregame goal.
“We know that the defense starts with us, with the ball pressure,” Maples said. “So [Micky and I] set a goal, we were going to get seven steals as a collective. That’s what my mindset was going into the game: I just gotta get the ball, fire before it gets to the person, on the flight of the ball, and just be in the right spot.”
With 17 points and four assists, Maples also starred offensively, and she had plenty of help from Guerreiro (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Jordana Reisma (14 points, eight rebounds). That domination on both ends of the floor produced leads that totaled 17, 20, and 37 after the first three quarters.
The scary thing for Vikings opponents? Maples thinks that there’s potential for even more.
“We’re not there yet, we’re still elevating,” she said.
If there was any drama on Saturday, it took place in the paint, through a clash between Reisma and Saunders, their teams’ star post players. Saunders, a 6-5 mountain, often got the better of things and managed a colossal seven blocks, all in the first half and usually on Reisma. That figure was the highest count by a YSU player in nearly 20 years, and the sixth-most by an NCAA Division I player this season.
However, as the game wore on, Reisma persisted and earned the fight’s decision, given that her 14 points exceeded the combined total of the Penguins’ pivots, Saunders and Lindsey Linard. In all, CSU outscored Youngstown State 46-12 in the paint, a number that also includes things like runout buckets not directly involving the frontcourt players.
“[Saunders] is really good,” Kielsmeier said. “And some teams will take the attitude that she’s big and going to block your shot, let’s stay out of there and stay away from her. We take the exact opposite approach to that, we’re going to go after her, we’re going to go after anyone that’s in the paint, it doesn’t matter who they are.”
“It’s a way of life for us.”
For the Vikings, the blowout that improved their record to 13-3 (4-1 Horizon League) was something of a catharsis after a brutally-tough string of five road games and, as Maples pointed out, a massive strike against arguably the Vikings’ biggest rival. Kielsmeier, however, sees it as a springboard towards his defense finally realizing its potential after an uneven first half of the season.
“You could see it come into fruition this week,” he said. “We had a great week of prep. The defense really fired at a lot higher of a level, our guards had been missing a lot of rotations and outs and stuff, where they just haven’t been able to understand the process quick enough in the moment. It was better this week, and it really showed early in the game.”
“We needed this moment to be able to make a big jump moving forward. I think our defense is really going to take off now, because they have a better understanding of it, but they can’t be satisfied or content in any way. They really gotta go to work this week and make sure we’re building off this success.”