As the 2019-20 college basketball season winds down, let’s review the remarkable story that was Cleveland State men’s basketball. The Vikings, after a tumultuous off-season, rallied around new coach Dennis Gates and put together an unexpectedly successful campaign.
Following an embarrassing exhibition game loss to local Division II team, Notre Dame College, CSU went 1-4 to start the regular season. But then a turnaround with consecutive wins over UNC-Wilmington, Eastern Kentucky, and Robert Morris happened and people started to pay attention.
A December stretch of five tough non-conference games (three of them on the road) found the Vikings on the losing end of all five. But importantly, CSU was competitive in all of them and the coaching staff was discovering ways to get productivity from various player combinations.
The Horizon League schedule opened with a narrow 71-66 loss to UIC in Chicago on December 28th, but the Vikings rebounded to win three straight games (vs. IUPUI, Youngstown State, and Detroit Mercy) and observers really took notice.
Then reality struck as a four-game stretch versus upper-division HL teams turned into a four-game skid. But again, other than a 26-point loss at Northern Kentucky on January 18th, CSU made their opponents very uncomfortable.
The Vikings went 4-6 in their final ten Horizon League games. They were competitive in all of them, and probably would have finished stronger without season-ending injuries to starters Craig Beaudion and Franklyn Penn sustained in mid-February. The year ended with a first-round loss to Oakland in the HL Tournament.
Head Coach Dennis Gates provided excellent leadership and instilled a positive attitude. Even with only casual observation, it was obvious that the team was playing hard and enjoying the competition. Basketball at The Wolstein Center was fun again!
New assistant coaches Rob Summers, Dru Joyce III, and Ryan Sharbaugh stepped right in and had the players prepared and motivated.
There is no such award, but junior Craig Beaudion, a transfer from Colby (KS) Community College, was the Horizon League “Find of the Year.” Prior to injuring his knee, Beaudion averaged 10.4 points per game and led the team in assists and steals.
Junior Algevon Eichelberger continued the improvement shown over his first two campaigns, and was named to the second team All-Horizon League. Big Al led the Vikings in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots.
Junior Torrey Patton transferred to CSU from Akron where a knee injury had limited his opportunities. But he proved to be a big-time player and should be a team leader in his senior season.
Sophomore Deante “Spider” Johnson, the squad’s tallest player at 6-foot-9, did a nice job off the bench and showed much more confidence as the season progressed.
Seniors Jaalam Hill and Kasheem Thomas didn’t get as much playing time as they would have preferred, but both were significant contributors in reserve roles.
And finally, newcomers Hugo Ferreira and Jeremy Sanchez (freshmen), Tre Gomillion (sophomore), and Franklyn Penn (junior) all were, at times, placed in the starting lineup, and all responded with effective and spirited play.
The only real negative had nothing to do with actual basketball, but it is disappointing that long-retired numbers 10 (Ken “Mouse” McFadden) and 14 (Franklin Edwards) were irresponsibly issued to current players. I know there have been many changes in CSU’s athletics administration, but there should have been enough institutional memory to prevent this from occurring, and I trust the situation will be corrected next season.