In a season where COVID-19 has significantly impacted both conference and non-conference scheduling, Cleveland State began the regular season with two games against Mid American Conference foes. In the season opener, the Vikings dropped a 70-61 decision to Toledo, and found themselves on the wrong side of a 101-46 thrashing at the hands of Ohio.
The Vikings started extremely fast against the Rockets, taking a 35-23 lead into halftime. Led by freshman sharpshooter Jayson Woodrich, Cleveland State showcased a much improved three point shot in the first half against Toledo. Unfortunately, the veteran led Rockets quickly cut into CSU’s lead as the second half began. Former Viking Seth Millner led the way for the Rockets with 17 points and 7 rebounds.
Toledo also benefited from clutch baskets down the stretch from point guard Marreon Jackson. Cleveland State, for its part, was unable to find their footing in the second half.
Despite the opening night loss, there were multiple positives to take away from the season opener. Firstly, the Vikings out rebounded Toledo 44-36 on the game. While it did not lead to a victory, this is a good sign for a Cleveland State team that was missing starting center Algevon Eichelberger. Deante Johnson stepped in and provided energy for a Cleveland State team that desperately needed it down low.
Secondly, Woodrich showed flashes of brilliance against Toledo, hitting three triples in the first half. While the Vikings were unable to close to deal against the Rockets, they competed hard against one of the upper echelon teams in the Mid American Conference.
The Bobcats, on the other hand, are a team that is showing they can compete against anyone in the country, and gave the No. 5 team in the country, Illinois, all they could handle and then some in their prior outing. Ohio came into Sunday’s clash with the Vikings riding an immense wave of momentum, and spent the entire game dominating CSU, including a 40-0 run that started at the end of the first half and ended with eight minutes left in the second, which marked an NCAA record for a Division I team against another D1 team.
The Bobcats were led by Lunden McDay who recorded 20 points, while NBA prospect Jason Preston contributed 12 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists in just 23 minutes of action. Cleveland State was led by Johnson and Woodrich, each of whom scored seven points.
Eichelberger missed his second straight game with an ankle sprain, and the Vikings clearly miss his steady presence down low. Eichelberger is a player that Cleveland State can run their offense through, making his loss even more significant.
CSU made a lineup change against the Bobcats, as junior college transfer D’Moi Hodge made his Cleveland State debut. Hodge had a game he would like to forget about, as he finished with just six points on 1-10 shooting form the floor. Head coach Dennis Gates will be left with the difficult task of finding what combination of players work well with each other, as the Vikings have a ton of new faces that all can do different things on the court.
With this abbreviated non conference schedule due to the pandemic, Gates will not have much time to figure this out before league play begins. The Viking have just one more non conference game on their schedule; a battle with in state powerhouse Ohio State.
As games around the country are being canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests, the Cleveland State Vikings have been able to successfully avoid being forced to put their season on hold thus far.
Gates credited the entire university’s effort when he stated, “Our resocialization committee has done a great job of not only organizing our campus, but communicating with us and obviously keeping us as safe as possible.”
It will be critical that all Horizon League teams take COVID as seriously as Gates and the Vikings seemingly are, in order for this season to be completed.