Arizona 71, Cleveland State 57 (box)
During Friday night’s upset blowout over fourth-seeded Wake Forest, the Cleveland State Vikings came out a house of fire, jumping to a 9-0 lead and knocking down the three ball from all angles. The same recipe would have to be used if the Vikings were going to pull off back to back stunners and advance to the Sweet 16.
Unfortunately, the best laid plans crashed in a hail of misfires and bricks. Arizona’s full court pressure and suffocating zone never allowed the Viking shooters to get into any sort of rhythm in the 71-57 Wildcat win. Shooting has been the bugaboo for this tough, physical group all year long. It is one thing to shoot 3-23 from deep against Youngstown State. It’s quite another to do it against an extremely athletic and talented Arizona club, that boasts three potential NBA first round picks (Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, Nic Wise).
It wasn’t just the three-point shooting that killed CSU, they couldn’t get anything going in the middle of the zone either. “Arizona’s zone was really tough,” Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said. “That has been our nemesis all year — the zone.” Leading scorer J’Nathan Bullock, who was so good against Wake Forest Friday night, struggled mightily, going 3-12 with just seven points. “I couldn’t find my shot,” Bullock said. “Some nights that happens. It’s tough when it happens in the second round of the NCAA tournament. When you play a zone, you have to make your open shots. We weren’t able to do that.”
Fellow bigs George Tandy and Chris Moore were smothered by Hill and Jamele Horne down low. Combined, they came up with just six points. The zone gobbled up the Vikings for a full 40 minutes.
Norris Cole and Cedric Jackson, despite shooting 1-12 from beyond the arc, did all they could to keep Cleveland State close. Cole did his best work shot-faking on threes and hitting the mid-rang jumper. He led CSU with 17 points. Jackson did his best to break the Wildcat pressure, but ran out of gas in the end. He finished with 15.
Even with the Vikings seemingly being dominated in every phase of the game, a Trey Harmon three with 6:27 left pulled them within four at 56-52. But Wise, the best player on the floor yesterday, answered with a triple of his own, and the Vikings were toast. Wise was spectacular, owning both ends of the floor. The lightning-quick point guard, led all scorers with 21 points and played hounding defense, the way Jason Terry did during his days in Tucson.
Regardless of how the game finished, CSU battled with Arizona for most of the game despite the fact that their shooters couldn’t hit water if they had fallen out of a boat. They never backed down to the challenge and did the university and city proud. They end their season at 26-11, the second-best in school history, while capturing the imagination of a city that should embrace them more than they do.
“The game today really didn’t epitomize anything about this team,” said Waters. “Sometimes these things happen in life. What epitomizes them is how hard they’ve worked. I’m extremely pleased because they continued to work to be who they are. [Arizona] was just the better team today.”
The Vikings lose seniors Bullock, Jackson, Tandy, and Moore, the guys who helped put the program back on the map. No doubt they will be missed, but with Waters in place, you can bet the program will stay competitive and at the top of the Horizon League.
“Our year is coming to an end as a family,” said Jackson said. “But we had a great year. We’re just proud that we could make it this far.”
We are all proud of you too, Cedric.