Second half mistakes doom Vikings in WBIT opening-round defeat

Photo: Cleveland State Athletics

On November 7th, Cleveland State opened 2023-24 with an 89-86 loss at Bowling Green, a contest that was largely defined by crucial second-half Vikings mistakes.

In some respect then, it’s fitting that CSU’s campaign concluded a half hour up I-75 from BGSU, in Toledo’s Savage Arena, with another game that saw a halftime lead evaporate under a wave of errors.

Ninety percent of people die within 50 miles of where they were born, so why can’t the same be true of the occasional basketball season?

Of course, when Cleveland State bowed out in the first round of the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament with a 76-68 loss to the Rockets on Thursday night to finish the year 29-6 overall, Vikings head coach Chris Kielsmeier wasn’t concerned with coincidences, he lamented trends. And a couple of glaring ones doomed his squad against the regular-season champions of the Mid-American Conference.

“We’ve kind of struggled coming out of the half, and we have not finished games the way we’ve needed to, that’s something that we’ve addressed all year,” he said. “We made a lot of defensive mistakes in the second half, got outworked for some 50-50 balls, and that’s why we lost the game.”

Kielsmeier’s comments mirrored those he made after his team’s previous outing, the Horizon League championship game loss to Green Bay on March 12th, a defeat he attributed to the Phoenix simply hustling harder than Cleveland State.

That makes a lot of sense, since it’s hard to argue that a bit of the same didn’t transpire on Thursday night. The Vikings led 28-26 after a sloppy first half that likely left both teams surprised that there was only one bucket of separation between them. However, after re-emerging from the locker room, Toledo asserted control of the affair, first by wrestling away the lead, then by coming up with every play that they needed to retain it.

Sometimes, it was a well-timed baseline cut by Khera Goss (15 points) or MAC Player of the Year Sophia Wiard (20 points), fed expertly by UT’s outstanding post players, led by Nan Garcia. On other occasions, it was sequences like the Rockets’ opening possession of the fourth quarter, when two offensive rebounds ended up producing a Quinesha Lockett jumper to expand UT’s lead to seven.

In another pivotal fourth quarter moment, CSU missed a shot that would have tied the game at 54-54, and Goss responded with a four-point play after being fouled while hitting a triple from the corner.

Most of the time, it was just plain, old-fashioned stout defense that shut off CSU point guard Colbi Maples and any others who attempted to drive the basket, removing a staple of the Vikings’ attack.

“They plugged the gaps really well,” Maples said. “And when they got their defense set, they’re really tough. We should’ve been more aggressive, finding the right shots instead of rushing.”

“Sometimes in life, you don’t get what you want because you just don’t have enough anger, you just don’t feel enough burn,” Kielsmeier said. “And I think this will really burn our program, the way we played the last couple games, it will fuel us for something bigger and better next year.”

If Mickayla Perdue burns hotter next season than she did on Thursday, she may leave a trail of molten rock behind her. The senior guard was outstanding in her return to the school where she spent the first two years of her college career, bucketing an unofficial career high 31 points on 12-for-21 shooting, including five three pointers. On several occasions, she produced points in high-leverage moments that prevented the Rockets from firmly grasping the result earlier than they did.

The 31 points were 13 more than she accumulated in her nine total games with UT.

“If I’m being honest, I just wanted to win the game,” she said, dismissing any idea of a revenge motive. “Nothing really fazed me, other than just wanting to win the game, just like any other game. Although the outcome was what it was, I felt like I gave my all out there.”

“I thought Micky did a great job of creating some opportunities for herself, and they did a nice job with the high ball screen and she was able to draw some fouls,” Toledo head coach Tricia Cullop, who recruited Perdue to UT, said. “She really did a nice job of shooting the ball for them.”

Perdue’s effort was supplemented by Jordana Reisma, who scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds, as well as by Faith Burch, who collected ten rebounds, largely while filling in for a foul-plagued Sara Guerreiro.

Kielsmeier, however, was more concerned with the future than the minutiae of the night’s game sheet.

“This needs to fuel us. We’ve lost to two teams that, in essence, had their entire program back from the year before,” he said, again citing the Green Bay loss and the fact that CSU essentially had zero returning starters after Destiny Leo’s early-season injury. “We want to build a program at Cleveland State with that kind of continuity.”

“I don’t think a lot of people thought that we were going to come back and have the kind of year that we did,” Kielsmeier added while his eyes steeled, perhaps as some of his own fuel combusted. “Anyone who wants to keep doubting Cleveland State, go ahead and we’ll show you what we’ll do next year.”

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