Practice makes perfect: Perdue’s hot start fires Vikings past Detroit Mercy

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Photo: Cleveland State Athletics

Chris Kielsmeier strongly believes in the old axiom that teams and individuals play like they practice.

Often, after a big win, the Cleveland State head coach will lead his postgame comments by mentioning that the Vikings had a great week of practice. Or, should his team lose, he’ll say the opposite and begin talking about roster continuity and the struggle to internalize his systems.

It’s unlikely that there’s a magic practice conversation or drill that causes players to score their team’s first 15 points of a game, as Mickayla Perdue did in CSU’s 74-53 win over Detroit Mercy on Wednesday night in the Wolstein Center, otherwise it certainly would be deployed a lot more frequently.

That doesn’t mean that he’s given up on finding it, however.

“We had a talk [yesterday] about just playing better offensively, especially in practice, just hitting more shots in practice,” Perdue explained. “When I’m making shots in shootaround, making shots in practice, I’m getting that flow, getting that rhythm, and that just translated to the game.”

“I felt like the last week offensively, she was off a little bit,” Kielsmeier added. “So yesterday before practice, we had a discussion: ‘let’s be better today, really concentrate on your shots and get in a better rhythm.’”

The first quarter of the contest that moved the Vikings into sole possession of second place in the Horizon League with a 5-1 conference record (part of a 14-3 overall mark) certainly looked like mere practice reps for Perdue, who singlehandedly put her team ahead 15-6 with 90 seconds to play in the frame.

After a plodding start, with neither side scoring a point until 3:13 had elapsed, Perdue finally took over and put the Vikings on the board by converting a Colbi Maples steal into a driving hoop. Thirty seconds later, the Springfield, OH native gave CSU a lead they would hold comfortably for the rest of the evening with a three, the first of two she fired home during her heater. A Sara Guerreiro rebound and a Shadiya Thomas pass then helped lead to a runout and-one play, before another layup and a pair of free throws rounded out the run.

Perdue wound up with 25 points in all, including a halftime buzzer-beating deep three that served as the exclamation point on one of the best stretches of basketball of her life. The scoring total equaled her best mark since transferring to Cleveland State over the summer and was the sixth time in her last eight games that she’s bucketed at least 20.

“She came out and carried us in the first half,” Kielsmeier said. “We really struggled to score in the first half in a lot of moments, and she played great tonight.”

“Micky’s a confident basketball player, you want to coach kids that have that much belief in themselves.”

Perdue was certainly confident enough to hand her teammates the spotlight once the visitors adjusted after the break.

“In the second half, they were playing me a little more aggressive,” she said. “I knew that when they were playing me more aggressive, then some of my teammates are probably open, so I was just getting the ball to my teammates. I’ve got teammates that can go make plays too.”

Maples supported the offense with 12 points and three assists, though all 12 available Vikings managed to score at least once.

As in the blowout win over Youngstown State on Saturday, the Vikings’ defense was a primary factor in Wednesday’s effort, leading Kielsmeier to plainly state that “we won the game tonight on the defensive end.” In all, CSU forced 28 turnovers, including 16 on steals, and limited UDM to 18.2 percent shooting in the first quarter while Perdue was going to work on the other end of the floor. Titans star Irene Murua was held to just two field goals in 11 attempts, continuing a recent string of shutdown efforts against some of the Horizon League’s best players.

Early in the fourth quarter, after 20 minutes of Detroit Mercy managing to hang just close enough to keep the outcome in some doubt – thanks largely to Imani McNeal’s 20 points, five rebounds and three steals – Cleveland State orchestrated a 13-0 run that bumped the score up to 72-44 and definitively sealed the result.

Still, Kielsmeier feels that his team didn’t maximize the opportunities that the defense provided.

“Rebounding margin, points off of rebounding, and points off of turnovers are something we track every single game, and it was negative tonight,” he said. “I’m not sure that we’ve won too many games this year when that was a negative total.”

“We forced 28 turnovers, but only scored 23 points off of those turnovers, so that means we only converted on 11 of those 28 turnovers. That ratio is not good. It’s something we talk about, we stat it, players know it. Sometimes you’ve just gotta put the ball in the hole at a higher rate, and sometimes you’re just not going to do that. When you don’t, you’ve just gotta find a way to win other ways, and that’s what we did.”

Another hurdle CSU had to navigate was foul trouble to standout post player Jordana Reisma, who saw just 7:23 of action. However, Brooklynn Fort-Davis was able to slot in for some of her most extensive action of the season and contribute nine points in 19 minutes, while also helping push the Titans’ talented bigs, like Emma Trawally Porta, into their own whistle issues.

“Our depth is key,” Kielsmeier said. “We’ve got a lot of players that can play really well on any given night and can impact the game in a significant way. Brooke defended and rebounded, made a couple plays offensively, it’s a player that’s still learning the system. I complimented Brooke on Saturday with how she handled pregame and shootaround and everything, she looks like she’s been here multiple years.”

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