It was a huge weekend for the Cleveland State Vikings basketball team. They entered Friday night’s home tilt with Green Bay in a three-way tie for the Horizon League lead with Valparaiso and the team they would be facing Sunday, Milwaukee. A sweep of the Wisconsin schools would be of the utmost importance, especially at home, considering the Vikings have already lost an in-conference home game against the upstart Youngstown State Penguins.
Before the first place showdown with the Panthers, CSU had to make sure they didn’t overlook Green Bay on Friday.
In front of a National TV audience on ESPNU for the second straight week, the Vikings controlled the game and took down the fighting Phoenix 78-68. The first six minutes were a back and forth struggle, but after back to back threes by Senior Tre Harmon, the Vikings never looked back. They led by six at the half.
After the break, CSU jumped all over their opponents from the North. Their lead stretched to 18 thanks to an 8-0 run with just over 10 minutes to play. The bench bunch, led by Freshman Anton Grady and the once redshirted Marlin Mason, keyed the surged. At was over for all intents and purposes at that point. Fifth year Senior D’Aundrey Brown had a solid all around game with nine points, seven boards, and five assists, all while playing his customary lock down defense. Harmon was terrific all night, leading all scorers with 19 points, including 4-6 from deep. Tim Kamczyc (12), Jeremy Montgomery (11), and Grady (10) all chipped in double figures.
Grady was a star again, grabbing 13 boards as well as he continues to impress. The local kid from Central Catholic is blossoming into a real stud off the bench. With Aaron Pogue constantly in foul trouble, Grady’s performance in league play thus far has been a welcome sight for Gary Waters. “He’s going to be our future,” the coach said after the win.
A night before, Milwaukee had been taken down in Youngstown, moving the Vikes into that three-way tie and putting a huge onus on yesterday’s first place battle.
It was a beautifully sunny Winter day in Cleveland, but I chose to go inside and watch Cleveland State attempt to knock Milwaukee down a peg. As much as a close game was anticipated (CSU was a five point favorite), the Vikings came strong from the opening tip, hitting shots and forcing turnovers. Before Rob Jeter’s club knew what hit them, his Panthers were down 13-3. Harmon, Montgomery, and Kamcyzc all hit three-point shots and CSU was off and running.
Believe it or not, a huge difference in the 83-57 blowout win was Pogue. The guy who seemingly averages a foul every two minutes, was a real force in the post. When he can get his big body going, it adds a whole different dimension to the perimeter-oriented Vikings offense. In 21 minutes, Pogue had 11 points and grabbed six rebounds. “Having an inside presence like Aaron, often, I’m left on an island by myself,” Kamczyc said. Yes, Pogue committed his fourth foul with just under 10 minutes remaining, but at that point, CSU was in the midst of their game-sealing 13-0 run to stretch a 38-30 lead to 51-30. The Vikes sizzled in the second half, hitting a whopping 69% (18-26) from the floor.
“When we’re shooting the ball well, the game is over, because we’re going to defend you,” Waters said.
The scoring was as balanced as any coach would love to see. That is the beauty of this particular team. Anyone of these guys can be the offensive star. On Sunday afternoon, six Vikings were in double figures – all five starters and Grady – with Harmon’s 15 tops on the team. They hit seven threes on 13 attempts, including a perfect 4-4 from Kamczyc, and the bench chipped in with 23. Defensively, CSU forced 15 turnovers and held Milwaukee to just 35% shooting.
With the easy win over Milwaukee completing the Wisconsin weekend sweep, the Vikings kept pace with Valparaiso at 7-2 atop the Horizon League. Valpo went on the road and won two in Chicago, at Loyola on Thursday and at UIC on Saturday. The Crusaders have just two road trips remaining – the Wisconsin and Ohio schools. Those will not be easy places to win. Youngstown State is the league’s biggest surprise, sitting just a game back at 6-3 after thrashing Green Bay yesterday by 30, two days after their two point win over Milwaukee. CSU has the Chicago and Wisconsin trips remaining, as well as a big time game up next at Youngstown State on Saturday, who dealt the Vikes their only home loss this season, 73-67 on New Year’s Eve.
“We have a new saying,” Pogue said. “It’s ‘no mas.’ No more losses this season.”