Vikings batter Wright State, advance to #HLWBB championship game

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Photo: Cleveland State Athletics

On the opening jump ball of Monday’s Horizon League semifinal game between Cleveland State and Wright State, the referee’s toss was off-line and a do-over was required.

That’s about the only thing that didn’t go perfectly for the Vikings at Indianapolis’ Indiana Farmers Coliseum throughout the afternoon, as they shredded WSU 83-50 to advance to Tuesday’s HL championship game.

CSU won possession on the second attempt at launching the game, and 23 seconds later, Mickayla Perdue knocked down the first three of her team-high 18 points to give the Vikings a lead they would never relinquish. Roughly seven minutes after that, Cleveland State’s edge was 25-8, thanks mostly to an 18-2 run, and the contest was never subsequently in any doubt.

What went so well for the Vikings?

“It really came down to our defense,” sophomore forward Jordana Reisma said. “We got our steals, we got our transition going, and that really fueled our offense.”

“Our first media timeout we had, what, eight deflections?” Perdue added, citing one of CSU’s key internal stats. “That’s when we knew our defense was going. We had 14 steals today, that’s just how I knew that we were going to fly around today on defense.”

Of course, the offense had a little bit to do with things too, as senior guard Sara Guerreiro initiated the decisive first-quarter run by scooping up an errant pass intended for Reisma, shrugging (at least mentally), and knocking down a three on the way to 11 points.

Perdue and Guerreiro were just two of the Vikings’ five double-digit scorers. That list also featured Colbi Maples’ 14 points, 12 from Brooklynn Fort-Davis, and ten by Reisma, who earned a double-double with her game-high ten rebounds. Each of CSU’s 12 available players made it on to the floor, and nine scored at least one basket, with bench players Fort-Davis and Shadiya Thomas (seven points in 26 minutes) playing particularly prominent roles beyond the Vikings’ starting quintet.

Cleveland State scored 24 points off of turnovers, and 42 points in the paint. As is customary for the Vikings, there was a healthy amount of overlap between those two numbers.

“We’re a confident group, we believe that we can play at a really high level, and we needed to make a statement right at 12:00,” CSU coach Chris Kielsmeier said. “I don’t think we could’ve scripted much of a better start. We played really dominant at the beginning of the game, it was a big part of our game plan, something we wanted to create and make happen, and we were able to do that.”

“I was just ready to play, I was just locked in from the beginning,” Perdue observed. “I think everybody was, you could see the look on everybody’s faces at the beginning of the game, before the game when we were in the hotel. Everybody just had that look on their face, everybody was locked in.”

If the Vikings started the game as well as possible, there might not be a word for how they began the second half, as the HL’s regular-season champions used a 17-2 third-quarter run to transform a 20-point lead into a staggering 77-39 advantage after 30 minutes.

“It was a dominating performance by our players, I really thought they played a complete 40 minutes,” Kielsmeier said. “We really challenged them at halftime, we’ve had trouble putting teams away.”

Kielsmeier specifically referenced his team’s quarterfinal game last Thursday against Northern Kentucky, which saw the Norse whittle a gigantic CSU halftime lead to just six points at one pivotal moment of the fourth quarter.

That issue seemed much more distant than four days ago by the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter on Monday, when the Vikings were bleeding the shot clock on every possession and gradually emptying the bench.

“Credit to Cleveland State, they played incredible,” Wright State coach Kari Hoffman said. “One of the best games of the season for them, it felt like they could do no wrong.”

Alexis Hutchison was outstanding for Hoffman’s team in the final game of her college career, as the former Malone University star poured in 22 points, including four three-pointers. Kacee Baumhower added 15 tallies for the Raiders.

With the victory, Cleveland State improved to 29-4 overall and advanced to Tuesday’s Horizon League final for the third consecutive year. The opening tip – which will probably only require one toss – is scheduled for noon. Second-seeded Green Bay, which defeated Purdue Fort Wayne in Monday’s second semifinal, will be on the opposite sideline to fight over the conference tournament title and automatic qualification for the NCAA Tournament.

“Everybody that comes here comes here to win two games, it’s no secret,” Kielsmeier said. “We need to come down from this, and we know whoever we’re going to play tomorrow is going to be an elite basketball team on both ends of the floor. We’re going to need to play really, really well.”

“We’ve just gotta play Cleveland State basketball,” Reisma added. 

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