Cleveland State extended its winning streak to seven games at Oakland on Thursday, though the run came crashing down two days later when upstart Detroit Mercy held back a lethargic and road-weary green and white crew. The mixed results from the CSU’s annual trip to Southeast Michigan advanced the Vikings’ record to 18-4 overall and 9-2 in the Horizon League.
Cleveland State 56, Detroit Mercy 69
Vikings head coach Chris Kielsmeier likes to say that teams can’t win a conference title in one day, but they can lose it. Whether that day transpired on Saturday when CSU was stunned by an ascendant Detroit Mercy program remains to be seen, though given the airtight race between Kielsmeier’s squad and Green Bay at the top of the Horizon League standings, the result certainly didn’t help Cleveland State’s cause.
The Titans jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game, thanks largely to an aggressive defense that forced six CSU turnovers in the first quarter, five of those during that opening salvo. The UDM advantage reached 13 – its high-water mark for the game – shortly after that, when Amaya Burch connected on three of her team-high 20 points. The explosive sophomore from New Jersey hit four of her six attempts from behind the arc, as she and backcourt partner Paris Gilmore buffered the absence of usual UDM starter Myonna Hooper.
“They were ready to play and we weren’t,” Kielsmeier said. “The first few minutes of the game really gave them a lot of confidence, while we looked exhausted and not ready to play. They showed up and had a ton of emotion and fight, and I thought they had a great gameplan and went out and executed it really well.”
“Quite honestly, they wanted it more than we did.”
Cleveland State was forced to chase that slow start for most of the afternoon, a situation made more difficult by a scrappy Titans squad that seemed to have the energy to answer every significant Vikings push. With UDM’s Emma Trawally Porta (15 points, nine rebounds, two blocks) making life miserable for CSU on both ends of the floor, the hosts answered an 8-0 Vikings run late in the first quarter with a 7-1 burst. Jordana Reisma cut the margin to three midway through the second quarter, but the Titans scored the next five points of the game over a matter of 62 seconds. A third quarter foray to within four points led to another sequence of five quick Detroit Mercy points, thanks to Burch and Imani McNeal.
The Vikings also suffered from a lack of offensive diversity. Mickayla Perdue scored a game-high 24 points, and she was supported by 15 tallies from Colbi Maples and 12 by Reisma. However, outside of that trio, the Vikings only managed a Carmen Villalobos three and a pair of Sara Guerreiro free throws.
“It’s been a concern,” Kielsmeier said. “We’ve gotta have better offensive balance. We’ve been able to win some nights with a couple people carrying the load, but that’s not what we want. We’ve got 12 really good players in uniform every night, and we need to play better consistently across the board.”
“We didn’t defend, and when we don’t defend it hurts our offense,” he added, citing Detroit Mercy’s low turnover count that hurt the Vikings’ preferred method for scoring quick points, as well as his own team’s inability to rebound cleanly.
Despite all of those issues, CSU managed to eke ahead early in the fourth quarter, thanks to a Maples block of Burch’s three-pointer that was then fired ahead to Perdue for a basket. That play was immediately followed by a Reisma score from the block and a Maples drive, which gave the Vikings a 51-49 lead with 8:20 to play.
However, Detroit Mercy saved its best counterattack for last, outscoring the Vikings 15-2 over the final 6:42 of the contest to deliver a signature victory in the second year of Kate Achter’s run in Calihan Hall.
Cleveland State 77, Oakland 65
Two days prior to being upset by Detroit Mercy, the Vikings offered a glimpse of things to come with a rough opening quarter against a tough Oakland team, though CSU was ultimately able to overcome their early struggles on Thursday.
The Golden Grizzlies built a 16-6 lead late in the first quarter, though a pair of Kali Howard free throws, followed by buckets from Perdue and Shadiya Thomas brought the gap within a manageable range by the intermission.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Kielsmeier said of Oakland’s home court, the OU Credit Union O’rena. “They’re an extremely talented basketball team. They turn you over, feed off of that, and you’ve gotta find a way to win here.”
That’s exactly what the Vikings did, pivoting the result on two quick sequences, one just before halftime and one just after.
With 57 seconds to go before the buzzer, star OU point guard Brooke Quarles-Daniels gave her team a 34-27 lead. However, Reisma immediately answered with a three-point play, and CSU followed that up with what was essentially two stops on the defensive end, thanks to a rebound that was quickly turned back over after the first of two Grizzlies misses. Faith Burch then hit two free throws to improbably trim Oakland’s lead to just two at the break.
The Vikings then opened the third quarter with a pair of steals, leading to buckets by Perdue and Maples that gave CSU a 36-34 edge.
“Most of the first half, we were just tight, we weren’t in a position where we were really playing anywhere close to what we were capable of,” Kielsmeier said. “I just tried to get them to calm down, let’s get in sync and go make some plays. Obviously, turning them over those first two possessions really helped, because that kind of fueled us.”
Cleveland State didn’t relinquish that advantage for the rest of the game. Perdue saw to that.
The 2022-23 Division II leader in made three pointers knocked down a trio of deep balls during the last four minutes of the third quarter, including a 30-foot buzzer beater. In all, Perdue scored 13 of her game-high 24 points during the frame as the Vikings surged ahead by 15 and cruised to the finish line with a shocking level of comfort, given how the contest started.
Perdue then added two more threes early in the fourth quarter, closing out a 5-for-5 run from deep that spanned 6:50 of game time.
“That’s just Micky being Micky,” Kielsmeier marveled. “She’s got that ability to do that, and she got some good shots and good opportunities, but you gotta step up and hit them. She did that, and that was one of the big moments of the game.”