It wasn’t pretty, but the Cleveland State Vikings continued their winning ways over the weekend. With the start of their usual Thursday/Saturday schedule, Gary Waters’s crew took on two undervalued competitors and came away with two hard fought wins, to improve themselves to 10-1, a third of the way through their season. Their lone blemish remains the head-scratching loss to a very average Hofstra club on a neutral floor in Rhode Island.
Thursday night’s road battle with Robert Morris was a close call, with the Vikings nursing a three point halftime lead on a buzzer-beating 30-footer from Senior SG Tre Harmon. The stretched their lead to a game-high 16 points just under 10 minutes left on a Jeremy Montgomery triple. But then the wheels almost fell completely off the wagon. The streaky shooting Vikes went cold and Robert Morris, picked to finish near the top of the NEC, came storming back. With less than a minute to go, the Colonials used a 19-4 run to cut the lead to just one. But CSU bared down and hit the free throws that counted.
Another Senior, Tim Kamczyz, hit five of his six free throws to ice another road win, 72-68, for Waters. The big lead vanished for two reasons, according to Waters – too many deep shots and too many turnovers (19). Of the 40 CSU field goal attempts – 19 of them were from the land of three. They hit seven of them, with Harmon leading the way with four. He also led the team with 24 points; only Montgomery joined him in double figures with 10. They always tough defense forced 21 Robert Morris turnovers.
“Frustrating game,” Waters said. “The reason why I was frustrated was turnovers. Every coach has his pet peeves. Mine is turnovers.”
The win brought them back home two days later for a quick turnaround afternoon tilt with fellow Northeast Ohio mid-major Akron. With CSU’s previous win over Kent, they were hoping for the area sweep. Just as they did Thursday night in Pittsburgh, they led and had control most of the game before going cold down the stretch. A second straight, second half double-digit lead disappeared. This time, Akron, who trailed by five at the half and by 13 with 10 plus remaining, stormed back to take a 66-64 lead with 1:48 to play.
“When you have a lead, you have to finish it out,” said Waters.
His mix of veterans and youth wouldn’t let him down in the end.
Montgomery, who missed his first seven triple tries in this one, broke a 66-all tie by burying one from deep with 21 seconds left to win it for the Vikes. On a day where he couldn’t hit anything (2-12), the Senior leader came through once again as he has done so many times in his career.
Harmon again led them in scoring with 16. D’Aundrey Brown and Kamczyz each chipped in 13.
The win gave CSU a sweep of the two other local schools that he often battles with on the recruiting trail. They want to keep the wins coming with three more non-conference games before taking on Youngstown State on New Year’s Eve. First things first – Waters would like to make some corrections with his club. ”We can’t turn the ball over too many times and we need to stop constantly fouling.”
The difference in this year’s Vikings squad is the depth. With the departure of all-time great Norris Cole, CSU has become more of a team offensively and not so reliant on one guy. Eight players are averaging more than 13 minutes a game, and their leading scorer, Brown, averages just over 12 a game.
Up next for CSU is a trip to Tampa to take on Big East bottom feeder South Florida (6-4).
photo via John Kuntz/PD