Maples drives CSU past Mastodons

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Photo: Cleveland State Athletics

With just under eight minutes remaining in the second quarter of Cleveland State’s 68-56 win over Purdue Fort Wayne on Saturday afternoon in the Wolstein Center, and the Vikings ahead by a 22-21 score, CSU’s Sara Guerreiro held the ball outside the three-point arc. The shot clock was quickly expiring, and Guerreiro didn’t have a clean look, so she tossed the ball to Colbi Maples a few feet to her right, with only about one second left to shoot.

Maples didn’t really have any better of an opportunity than Guerreiro did, but with no other choice, she quickly heaved the ball in the general direction of the hoop as the buzzer sounded.

Glass. In. 25-21 Vikings. Sometimes when things are going your way, nothing else really matters.

“I just threw it up there and I was praying it in,” Maples admitted.

Those three points were just a small piece of the point guard’s latest – and possibly best – star turn, a 29-point, seven-assist dynamo that was a showcase of everything she and the Vikings’ system tries to offer. The 29 points represented the second-best total of her career, behind only a 32-point outing while at Grambling last season, while the seven helpers equaled a personal best.

As always, Maples’ output was fueled by precision in transition and the ability to get inside and play through contact.

“I make a few reads, and then I kind of, in a way, rub off the post player if I see that they’re not going to be open to get to the lane,” she explained.

“She can attack that basket with some force,” Vikings head coach Chris Kielsmeier added. “At times, she gets a little bit out of control if she doesn’t get the angle right to be able to explode downhill into the basket. But she’s gotten so much better with that, that’s as much of the growth of her game from last year to this year as anything.”

Meanwhile, Purdue Fort Wayne coach Maria Marchesano’s visiting squad found footing early and often through Jazzlyn Linbo. The junior post player finished with a career-high 20 points, eight of those before the game’s first media timeout. CSU threw the full range of its depth at the 6-2 junior, with freshman Paulina Hernandez arguably enjoying the most success before a couple of quick fouls sent her back to the bench.

Linbo also grabbed a season-high 12 rebounds, while adding three assists and two steals, and drawing a whopping nine fouls, converting those infractions into an 8-for-9 effort from the free throw line.

“They went to her a couple times, and she got easy point-blank looks,” Kielsmeier said. “As a player, and as a coach, if it’s working, keep doing it. [Not being able to counter that] is bad execution on our part, but give credit where credit’s due, she went out and made the plays and got to the free throw line, we can’t foul her.”

“She kicked our butt.”

A back-and-forth affair for 15 minutes finally saw a bit of separation when Cleveland State went on an 11-0 run late in the second quarter, ultimately taking a ten-point lead into halftime. Maples launched the surge with a traditional three-point play, then kept it going with the more modern version and an additional free throw.

Despite Kielsmeier’s issues with how his team handled Linbo, the Vikings, generally, did a solid job defending PFW stars Amellia Bromenschenkel, Shayla Sellers and Audra Emmerson, as the backcourt trio was limited to a combined 14 points on 5-for-22 shooting through the first 30 minutes.

However, Sellers – an Aurora, OH native likely playing the final game of her career in her home metropolitan area – got loose for a quick pair of three-pointers from the corner opposite her team’s bench, signaling something of a shift as the contest approached the closing minutes.

“We were a little late on a few things,” Maples said. “Just some things we’re going to try to tighten up in practice next week.”

At several moments during the fourth quarter, the Mastodons closed to within two possessions, but CSU always seemed to find some quick points exactly when needed to maintain safety.

“We didn’t play very well today,” Kielsmeier said. “On the other hand, we won the game because of how we win games: we defend and we find enough offense when we’re not firing offensively across the board like we can, we get to the free throw line and keep them off the free throw line. The system wins.”

“This group understands that, they understand how to win games even when it’s not at our best.”

The final major crossroads heavily involved Guerreiro who, after hitting a pair of free throws, was whistled for a foul on the other end of the floor. However, she intercepted the subsequent inbound pass and fired ahead to Mickayla Perdue for a layup. Guerreiro then committed another foul, but after PFW misfired from the free throw line, the senior from Portugal knocked down a three-pointer. That sequence took the score from a tenuous 54-50 to 61-50 with 3:28 remaining, all but sealing the win.

More often though, it was Maples who delivered the needed energy. Her and-one play early in the fourth quarter pushed a three-point Vikings lead back out to six, which rapidly became eight after she rebounded a Ryin Ott miss on the following PFW possession and found a streaking Perdue in transition.

Perdue, Maples’ backcourt running mate, wound up with 19 points, nine of them on three pointers, as the starting duo continuously fed off each other on both ends of the floor. Carmen Villalobos offered her usual touch-every-stat-column effort with seven points, eight rebounds, three assists and four steals.

The victory, which moved the Vikings record to 15-3 (6-1 Horizon League) was CSU’s 16th consecutive at home, a streak that covers an entire calendar year. Green Bay was the last opposing team to win in Cleveland, on January 14, 2023.

“If you want to have an elite program, you’ve gotta win at home and you’ve gotta be dominant at home, and your players have to embrace that,” Kielsmeier said. “You’ve gotta have a little bit of the ‘it factor’ I call it, some confidence and some swag.”

“But we need to start games better, I want to send a message to teams that this is going to be a hard night for you. It’s still very much a work in progress with what we’re doing, but they should have a ton of confidence in who they are and how they can play the game.”

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