Dominant first half lifts Vikings over Wright State

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Photo: Cleveland State Athletics

Cleveland State is not a team that carries a ton of secrets when it takes the court. Every single one of the Vikings’ opponents knows that CSU is going to attack with the same aggressive zone defense, and that they’re going to use that defense to try to produce opportunities for easy points, ideally through turnovers, though a rebound and a couple nice passes get the job done as well. Attack, run, score. Then do it again.

That’s part of what made the first half of the Vikings’ 72-61 victory over Wright State on Wednesday night in Fairborn, Ohio so impressive: the Raiders, a high-quality, familiar opponent knew exactly what was coming and still couldn’t do much about it.

At times, the results were almost comically effective. In the first quarter alone, CSU grabbed five steals, and shot 11-for-13 (84.6 percent) from the floor, producing a 27-14 advantage. Ten of those eleven makes were fired from within the paint, paced as usual by swarming guards Colbi Maples and Mickayla Perdue, who finished the game with 17 and 12 points, respectively. Jordana Reisma and Brooklynn Fort-Davis were also heavily involved through drop-in passes and the rare occasions where cleanup duty was required, as the post rotation combined for 29 points and an 11-for-14 field goal ratio.

That astronomical first quarter shooting percentage (good for a solid B in most of the Cleveland State roster’s coursework) spent much of the rest of the evening regressing toward the mean, though the Vikings’ final number, 60.4 percent, was still the best game total in the Horizon League this season.

Those efforts were facilitated by the absence of Layne Ferrell, who picked up a pair of fouls in the first 2:18 of the game. For a Wright State program still trying to build depth in the middle of the floor, the 6-2 Akron transfer resting on the bench until things became dire for the home side in the second quarter was a significant blow as the likes of Perdue, Maples, Reisma and Fort-Davis essentially did whatever they wanted near the basket.

“That first half was really good,” Vikings head coach Chris Kielsmeier said. “We were flying around defensively, we had 35 points in the paint at the half and really attacked the basket the way we wanted to.”

“That’s who we are and how we play.”

“Our defense really set the tone in the first half,” agreed Perdue, who was playing near her hometown of Springfield and in front of a couple dozen supporters at Wright State’s Nutter Center. “We were flying, we were moving. We did a good job guarding the perimeter and making sure we were shifting quickly and getting to those three-balls.”

As Perdue mentioned, a significant piece of that defensive effort involved clamping down on WSU’s perimeter shooting. In the southwestern Ohio half of the 2022-23 season series last January, the Raiders burned the Vikings for a program record 18 three-pointers, after Kari Hoffman’s squad surprised CSU by playing a 5-out offense. This time around, however, Wright State only went 6-for-27 from deep and star guard Alexis Hutchison, the HL’s leading scorer entering the game, lost her perch after being held to eight points.

“I don’t think we were as prepared for what they were going to run last year as we were this time,” Kielsmeier said. “Coach Shelby [Zoeckler], she had the scout [this year] and she did a great job. But players gotta go out and execute, and to limit, for one, 27’s a lot of threes, but not necessarily for them.”

“It’s not just the makes, it’s the attempts, because if they go up, they can go in.”

Kielsmeier might have been thinking about the second half when he said that.

The CSU advantage, after a zenith of 23 points in the first minute of the third quarter, slowly began to unwind in a manner reminiscent of WSU’s game against league-leading Green Bay on January 7th. In that affair, the Raiders trailed by 21 points at halftime, but clawed within seven during the fourth quarter before losing by 12. Things never became quite that tight on Wednesday – a 9-0 Wright State run bridging the final two frames brought the gap down to 11 by the time it stalled – though the fact that they didn’t required a little bit of good fortune.

Ferrell made a full recovery from her early foul issues (in fact, she was only whistled once after the opening three minutes) to lead the WSU charge with 15 points. The redshirt senior was 3-for-9 from three-point range, though within the final five minutes of the game, she misfired on solid looks from the corner on the left side of the floor three consecutive times. Had those shots produced three or six points, along with possibly three more from deep balls by Hutchison and Kacee Baumhower that were off the mark during that same span, the complexion of the game’s conclusion certainly might have been a lot different.

Like Kielsmeier said, if they go up, they can go in. Luckily for the Vikings, sometimes they don’t.

“We’ve gotta get better at just being consistent in both halves,” Perdue said.

“We didn’t defend them as well, we didn’t create any turnovers, which doesn’t get our transition game going,” Kielsmeier added, lamenting an offense that he felt became stagnant as it stumbled to just 23 points over the final 20 minutes to help enable Wright State’s comeback. “Also, I don’t really like the game I called in the second half, I think I should’ve done a better job getting the ball into certain spots.”

“But it’s a huge win, I’ll tell you that much.”

Indeed, it was. The result moved the Vikings to 16-3 (7-1 Horizon League) and completed a run of three consecutive games where CSU beat back their closest competitors in the conference standings, Detroit Mercy, Purdue Fort Wayne, and Wright State. Kielsmeier’s squad is now two games clear of everyone trying to chase down their second-place position, and one-half game behind first-place Green Bay.

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