While the Browns were being disgraced by the Steelers and the Cavs were being rolled by the Bulls and the Mavericks, the Cleveland State Vikings spent their days leading up to the New Year by pounding two different conference opponents into submission. Both Horizon League Chicago schools, Loyola and Illinois-Chicago left the Wolstein Center battered, bruised, and impressed by CSU’s overall game.
Last Thursday, Loyola was overwhelmed by a balanced Vikings attack. Four CSU starters were in double figures, led by Center Aaron Pogue, who is rising into one of the best big men in the Horizon League. Point Guard Norris Cole, who took a season low nine shots (hit four of them), kept feeding the beast in the post all game long and the Ramblers couldn’t stop him. Pogue finished with a double-double – 16 points and 12 rebounds. After the 73-55 win, he was brimming with confidence.
“Not many people can guard me one-on-one,” Pogue said. “I feel I can destroy any man one-on-one.”
On this night, he did, hitting 8-11 shots from the floor and grabbing five of his 12 rebounds on the offensive glass.
Many games this season, Gary Waters bunch has lived by the three point shot. Against Loyola, they only hit four, yet still won by 18. The inside game was working and Waters implored his guards to continue to go to the well.
Two days later, UIC came to town; the same UIC team that knocked off then #14 Illinois two weeks earlier at the United Center. It would have been very easy for CSU to overlook the Flames, considering their next game was a trip to Indianapolis for a date with their bitter rival, the Butler Bulldogs.
This is where Waters earns his money.
With both Pogue limited to 17 minutes with foul trouble, Waters leaned on his backcourt trio of Cole, Jeremy Montgomery, and Tre Harmon. On any night, any of these three can be the star. This time it was Harmon, who led all scorers with 24 points on 7-10 shooting, including four triples. Cole again showed why he is an all-league performer, scoring 21 points, to go with six rebounds, six assists, and six steals. He was everywhere for Waters as usual.
The defensive end is really where the game was won for the Vikings. Led by Cole, CSU forced 24 UIC turnovers and had 15 steals. Waters’ swarming half court traps wreaked havoc on the Flames all game long leading to a 83-59 blowout. “Once we see they’re tired, we put our foot on the gas,” said Cole.
After this one was in the books, Waters turned his focus immediately to the Butler game, Friday night in Indy.
“The Butler Invitational, We’ve got to stop that,” he said. “Butler is a different monster at home. They’re confident at home. Players come to the forefront at home. You have to be at your very best to beat them at home.”
The game is nationally televised on ESPNU, Friday night at 7 PM. The 15-1 Vikings come in with a lot of confidence, but also will no doubt be the underdog to last year’s National Runner-up.
Make sure you get in front of a TV for this one. It will be a battle.
photo via Joshua Gunter / The Plain Dealer