Vikings zero in on HL title in blowout of Robert Morris

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With 3:12 remaining in the first quarter on Saturday afternoon in Moon Township, PA, Robert Morris center Danielle Vuletich backed Cleveland State’s Brooklynn Fort-Davis into the paint, then spun and hit a short jumper to cut the Vikings’ lead to 14-10.

The Colonials would not manage another field goal for the next 16 minutes and 45 seconds – 42 percent of a regulation college basketball game – as CSU built a 31-1 run during that span, ultimately rolling to a 79-40 victory over their hosts and improving to 25-4 (16-2 Horizon League).

In some sense, it was another in what’s become a string of signature defensive performances by the Vikings as the 2023-24 regular season schedule winds down. However, Saturday’s effort was unique among them, as it included one of the rarest team accomplishments available on that side of the ball: a shutout quarter.

During the second period, the Colonials missed all 12 of their shot attempts while turning it over five times. When accounting for RMU’s pair of offensive rebounds, the numbers added up to 15 completely-barren possessions.

“Our defense was outstanding,” Vikings head coach Chris Kielsmeier said. “To hold any team, I don’t care who it is, to no points in a quarter, it’s saying a lot.”

“Our focus and our prep for this was outstanding by our players, I couldn’t be more proud of their understanding the moment, and understanding what we need to do. Let’s come together, do our job, and do it really well.”

The scariest part for anyone tasked with solving that defense might be that CSU’s players and coaches don’t even realize when they’re performing on that sort of level.  

“I don’t think anybody knew that it happened, to be honest,” Kielsmeier said of his team’s perfect quarter, which was very nearly spoiled by a Louella Allana logo-range heave at the buzzer that circled the rim before popping out. “I saw it in the stats and went in and told the kids about it at halftime. They were all excited about it, so I don’t think they were aware of it [either].”

To be clear, Robert Morris has scuffled this season like few teams in the country, particularly on offense. The Colonials average just 54 points per game and are now 6-22 overall and 2-17 in HL play, those records thanks largely to the grip of a 16-game losing streak that stretches back to 2023. That spiral contributed to the ouster of long-time head coach Charlie Buscaglia on February 12th.

Even the Colonials’ fans are deflated, including one who predicted a modest three-point RMU victory as part of a pregame promotion, something of a “I know that I have to pick the home team, but I also know that I’m going to be wrong” acknowledgement.

Still, circumstances like that have rarely mattered when RMU sees the Vikings on the opposite bench. During the 2021-22 season, the Colonials upset Cleveland State at the UPMC Events Center, coincidentally with current interim coach Scott Schneider in charge, while Buscaglia was on a leave of absence.

The Vikings took a hard-earned 72-59 victory in the Wolstein Center half of this season’s series back in November, a game that was one second-quarter CSU run away from coming down to the wire. Furthermore, within the ten days prior to hosting Cleveland State, RMU battled HL top-four teams Green Bay and Wright State in contests that weren’t decided until the final three minutes.

“They’re energized, and they’re playing really hard,” Kielsmeier said. “Defensively, they play a style that can give teams trouble where they put a lot of pressure on the ball and overplay stuff. And we’ve struggled here.”

Cleveland State was led offensively by Colbi Maples, who scored 22 points, including a pair of three-pointers and four separate trips to the free throw line. It was the starting point guard’s first 20-point outing since February 3rd against Green Bay and a solid bounceback from Wednesday night’s game at IUPUI, when foul trouble and off-target shooting limited her to four points.

“Look how aggressive she was to the basket,” Kielsmeier said. “It’s important for her to not get early fouls, because when she gets early fouls, then she gets a little bit more passive going to the basket because she gets a little worried about charges and different things.”

“But she was really aggressive downhill, and that’s what we challenged her with, [being] the aggressive power and pop driver to the basket. She got her three-ball going, and she had a great game, no doubt.”

Micayla Perdue added 16 points and four assists for CSU, while Sara Guerreiro, Carmen Villalobos and Grace Ellis each grabbed seven rebounds to lead the way to a staggering 46-27 team advantage on the glass.

Kielsmeier hopes that there’s more to come over Cleveland State’s final two regular season games, Tuesday at Youngstown State and Saturday against Northern Kentucky. Victories in both would secure the first regular season conference title in program history.

“There’s still room for growth,” he said. “This is a group that’s only played 20-some games together, and it was a dominant performance by our kids tonight.”

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