Horizon League play is always done in pairs. Each team has a travelling partner and the norm is to play two games on the road or at home over a three day period. During the Gary Waters era at Cleveland State, the toughest road trip for any of the League foes is always the Indiana combo.
Friday night, the then-4-1 Vikings headed to take on their nemesis, Butler, at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in front of a National TV audience. As you know, the Bulldogs have been the darlings of the NCAA Tournament, making the last two National Championship games under the tutelage of wunderkind coach Brad Stevens. Since Waters took over in 2006, his teams are just 2-10 against Butler, with just one of those wins coming in Indy – the 2009 Horizon League title game.
So when the Vikes took the floor Friday night, they had plenty of payback on their mind. They lost three times to Butler last season and have the better team in 2012. They came out smokin from the start and never looked back in a hard-fought, 76-69 win, to put them in a first place tie at 5-1 with Milwaukee. The game was highly entertaining and the usually raucous Hinkle crowd was quieted early and often by the stifling Vikings defense.
The Senior duo of Tre Harmon and Tim Kamcyzc showed early that this one was going to be different. Harmon hit two threes and Kamczyc added seven quick points as CSU raced out to an 18-4 lead five minutes in. As they usually do, Butler creeped back ti within four points at 26-22 and re-energized the home crowd. They were silenced on the next trip down with a triple from the most unlikely of sources, 6-9 sophomore PF Luda Ndaye. It was his first three of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time. At the half, CSU was clinging to a two-point lead and Butler seemed to carry the momentum.
A lot of it had to do with the officiating. I’ve seen a lot of games in my life, but I can’t remember one being so one-sided in terms of fouls being called. Butler fans will tell you its because of the swarming defense CSU plays. I will tell you the refs were blowing the whistles at a ridiculous rate. The Vikings were in foul trouble all night.
The second half was no different. Within the first 10 seconds, Center Aaron Pogue was whistled for his fourth foul and Butler would tie things at 35 before the Vikings got themselves back together. Kamczyc, who is playing some of the best basketball of his career, hit a three to break the tie and then Waters, so frustrated with the officiating, got T’d up. By the Under 16 minute timeout, a Ronald Norad three and a free throw by Andrew Smith gave Butler its first lead at 41-40. CSU fans were all thinking “here we go again.” But this time, things would be different.
CSU hit the Bulldogs with a 9-1 run out of the timeout with four coming from Kamczyc and five from Jeremy Montgomery, who had been held scoreless the first 19 minutes of the game. The Senior from Chicago, who played a vital role off the bench as a Freshman in the Vikings upset win over the Bulldogs in the Horizon League championship game, would take over the game. He scored 16 of his 18 points after the break, including the dagger three with just under three minutes to play to put the Vikes up nine. “I just felt good and in rhythm,” Montgomery said. “I love taking those type of shots.”
Waters’s club would leave Hinkle victorious, despite the fact that Butler shot a whopping 42 free throws. CSU attempted 23, but none of those were taken in the final minute with Butler attempting to stretch the game. Five Vikings had four fouls.
“I told them in the locker room, they did a great job under all the adversity,” Waters said. “I said: ‘I’m proud of you guys. You withstood all that and did what you had to do to be successful.’ ”
There was really no time for celebrating since they had to go to another tough venue a day and a half later. 4-2 Valparaiso was waiting and coming off a 14-point home win over Youngstown State, a team who stunned CSU for their only conference loss to date. You could almost see this result coming a mile away.
The Vikings came out sluggish, missing their signature tough defense, and allowed Valpo to shoot the lights out on their way to a 72-66 win. From the opening tip, this one was different. Led by Center Kevin Van Wijk, the Crusaders hit their first five shots and led 10-2 before the Vikes knew what hit them.
“When you get into an offensive game like this, you either got to match it, or you have got to stop it,” Waters said. “We didn’t do either one.”
They fought hard to get to within four at the half and trailed 29-25, but they had no answer for Van Wijk in the middle. They tried both Aaron Pogue and Anton Grady, but neither could contain the Crusader big. Throw in a dash of the Horizon League’s leading scorer, Ryan Broekhoff and a strong 24 points off the bench, and the Vikings just couldn’t handle Valpo’s offensive explosion. They started the second half hitting six of their first seven shots and finished the game shooting a jaw-dropping 60% from the field. Van Wijk led all scorers with 23.
CSU, who was so good from deep two nights before against Butler, hit just 6-21 (28%) and it cost them dearly. Only Kamczyc really played well, leading the Vikings with 18. Harmon, Montgomery, and D’Aundray Brown were a combined 11-39 from the floor. When three of your top four scorers struggle that mightily on the road, you aren’t going to come out on top, especially when the opponent hits 60% of their shots.
So the Vikings, who looked like they would be in great shape after the win at Butler, now sit in a muddled five team race at the top. Milwaukee, who visits the Wolstein Center on Saturday, leads at 6-1. CSU and Valpo are a game back at 5-2, with Youngstown State and Butler right there at 4-3.
Up next for CSU is a visit from Green Bay (7-10, 3-4) Thursday Night at 8 PM.