Ciera Anderson and Chelsea Jones did most of the damage for the Lady Cougars in the first half with six points each as the visitors dominated the paint in the early going. Both teams started ice cold, but Cleveland State warmed a bit and went on a 12-2 run to take a 33-19 halftime advantage.
"We took the lead early and kept it the entire game. They would make a run and we would stretch it back out, but it was never comfortable and it didn't feel like we had that big of a lead," explained Lady Cougar coach Dan Lumpkin. "It was a very physical, intense game with a lot of contact. We did a really good job of keeping our composure in a tough game."
The Lady Cougars stretched their lead to a 20-point bulge in the second half, but the Lady Cats made a run and sliced the lead down to 13 points after Emily Cole and Keesa Wise 3-pointers. Hannah Brown helped Cleveland State maintain its lead with a pair of buckets in close, and one more from downtown. Brown picked up nine of her game-high 15 points in the second half.
Jara Gasper nailed a 3-pointer and Robyn Anthony added three driving layups to the cause down the stretch and the Lady Cougars added steadily to their lead from the charity stripe. Cleveland State hit 30-of-40 free throws in the game including 23-of-29 in the second half for a cool 75 percent for the game. The Lady Cats hit 15 of their 19 free-throw attempts.
"We finished strong and did a good job of handling the ball against their pressure," the coach continued. "We didn't shoot the ball particularly well from the perimeter, but we did a better job of executing and getting high percentage shots. We shot free throws really well; that was a big key to the game, if we hadn't shot free throws well it would have been tough, and a much closer game."
After Brown's 15 points, Anderson finished with 12, Gasper had 11 and Jones and Anthony added 10 to lead Cleveland State (2-3). Kiarra Parks paced the Lady Cats (2-3) with 17 points while Wise added 15.
Cleveland State will travel to both Middle and West Tennessee this weekend with a trip to Columbia State on Friday at 7 p.m. for a pair of games. The Cougars then move on to Jackson State Saturday afternoon at 3 for a doubleheader.