If Gary Waters was told that Norris Cole and Tre Harmon would combine for 49 points, he’d ask, “where do I sign up?” If Gary Waters was told that he would get 13 unexpected points off the bench from SG Josh McCoy, he’d be beyond thrilled.
Waters would assume that with those contributions, his team would end up on the winning side of the coin. Instead, his front court was completely worked over and the team once again was killed on the glass, causing a devastating 87-83 home loss to Milwaukee. Its just the second time the Vikings have lost at the Wolstein Center this season.
And they couldn’t have had worse timing.
The loss sends CSU into a tailspin, which could ultimately result in the Vikings going from hosting and grabbing the top seed in the Horizon League tournament to third place. Its been said many times before but it bears repeating – the top two teams in the standings receive a double bye into the semis. The others must win four games to win the tournament. Only a miracle Milwaukee loss at Youngstown State or a Butler home loss to Loyola can provide CSU with said good fortune.
They had their destiny in their own hands yet failed to close it out.
“You’ve got to win at home,” Waters said. “It’s a disappointment when the door is open for you. The thing I don’t like is, we’ve got to go the long route [to win the tournament]. And this team is not built to go the long route.”
Like their loss in Detroit earlier in the month, the thin CSU front court was taken to school all night. Tony Meier scored a game-high 28 points while grabbing eight boards. It was easy for Meier and for Anthony Hill (16 points in 17 minutes) because once again Vikings Center Aaron Pogue was in foul trouble. He picked up two fouls in the first five minutes, putting the short-benched Vikes at a major disadvantage.
Not having their top low-post threat, CSU relied on the three ball, and that turned out to be a nightmare. Even though Cole scored 27, he was 0-6 from deep, Harmon was just 1-7. On the night, the Vikings were an ice cold 4-21 from three and that just cannot happen if they are expecting to win, especially against a hot team like Milwaukee.
“When you make those shots, you look good,” said Cole. “When you miss those shots you look bad. And when you give up 3s on the other end, it looks worse.”
Milwaukee hit eight threes on the night and out-rebounded CSU 34-26. They were never able to get into a flow once Pogue picked up that second foul early. At that point, they led 7-5. They would never see the lead again. Milwaukee led by 16 with just under nine minutes to play and the Vikings looked like they were dead in the water. A three by McCoy with 3:35 left brought CSU to within five at 73-68 and it seemed as though the tides were turning. But Milwaukee hit nine free throws down the stretch. McCoy hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 86-83 with nine seconds left, but Meier hit one of two free throws to put the nail in the CSU coffin.
The loss is just a killer for a Cleveland State team that has played so well all season long. Now they must beat Green Bay in Norris Cole’s home finale on Saturday and hope for either a Butler or Milwaukee loss to get that coveted double bye.
photo via PD