The last time that the Cleveland State Vikings were in the NCAA tournament is now a well-known 23 years ago. That year, one of the biggest upsets was when the Kevin Mackey-led Vikings toppled the Bobby Knight-led Hoosiers of Indiana.
The last time that the Vikings current coach, Gary Waters, won a tournament game, he was the head coach of Kent State. In 2001, Waters took a then 13-seed Golden Flash team and once again upset the Indiana Hoosiers.
The next time that Waters was given a 13-seed bid in the tournament was last night, as the stage was set to take on the once top-ranked Demon Decons of Wake Forest. And this time, a combination of the above-mentioned wins gets combined into a second-round birth in the NCAAs, as the Waters-led Vikings not only won last night’s game, but came out firing and never looked back.
As the game inched to halftime, there is no doubt that there was a small feeling of some air being let out of the tires. However, after the Decons pulled to within six about midway through the second half, Cleveland State would have none of it. The sharp shooting of Cedric Jackson as well as the stellar play of Norris Cole took that single-digit lead and made it one of 15 points – all the buffer that the Vikings would need.
Flipping back and forth between the Vikings game and the game being played between Ohio State and Siena, you have to wonder if other regions were given the same choice which game they would have selected. Considerably smaller than most of their opponents, the Vikings played with tenacity. The Buckeyes make you want to pull you hair out when it comes to rebounding the basketball, but Cleveland State has a 6’5″ J’Nathan Bullock playing in the post night after night, and doing a mighty fine job.
The Vikings get a day of rest before matching up with the 12-seed Arizona Wildcats, who managed to “upset” the fifth-seeded Utah Utes moments before CSU tipped off. I use the quotes for “upset” and failed to mention it in the title for the reason that you can see that the Vikings felt that they were supposed to win last night’s game. There was no exuberant celebration. And when they match up against the Wildcats tomorrow afternoon, you know that there is a group of guys wearing green and white that truly believe that they’re ready for the Sweet 16. And they definitely proved it last night.
Let’s hope that they can keep this ride going. It sure is a fun one.