In a season where seemingly nothing is certain, the Cleveland State Vikings were in search of a last second opponent for this past weekend after their original opponent, Robert Morris, was dealing with Horizon League COVID-19 protocols. With less than 48 hours to prepare, the Vikings and the league scheduled two games against Horizon League newcomer Purdue Fort Wayne. The Mastodons came into this past weekend with only one game under their belt this season due to COVID issues within their own program. Fort Wayne’s final four non conference games were canceled, following a four point overtime victory in their season opener against Southeast Louisiana.
The first matchup of the double header proved to be a back and forth affair until the very end. In order to combat Fort Wayne’s highly potent three point attack, Dennis Gates and the Vikings decided to implement a 2-2-1 full court press into a 2-3 zone on a majority of their defensive possessions.
When asked about the adjustment postgame, Gates stated, “We do postseason and offseason scouts. We had a scout prepared for Fort Wayne based on last season as they were a newcomer in our league…I learned that from Leonard Hamilton. Each offseason we would do a pre scout, meaning a scout on potential opponents and we had that stored away.”
Cleveland State’s tenacious zone defense led to 27 Fort Wayne turnovers in game one, which aided the Vikings chances to hang in a close 63-61 victory. Junior Tre Gomillion paced Cleveland State in game one with 16 points, three assists, and two steals. Fellow junior Deante Johnson also contributed in place of Algevon Eichelberger with 13 points, seven rebounds, and two blocked shots. While Johnson is not the post player offensively that Eichelberger is, his energy on the defensive end has been invaluable to begin the season as he is recording nearly two blocked shots per contest on the young season.
While game one of the doubleheader provided an extremely close encounter, game two provided fireworks of a different kind. On what was his 22nd birthday, Cleveland State newcomer D’Moi Hodge had one of the most memorable performances in Cleveland State basketball history. The junior guard erupted for 46 points on a scintillating 15/23 from the field.
Hodge also broke Cleveland State’s single game three-point record, hitting ten of his fifteen three pointers. With his performance, Hodge also picked up player of the week honors from the Horizon League for this past week’s action. While the Vikings enjoyed a 53-31 halftime advantage, the Mastodons continued playing extremely hard despite the lopsided score. Junior guard Jarred Godfrey led Fort Wayne with 23 points in game two.
CSU’s 89-80 victory provided the Vikings with a learning opportunity in a victory. In order for Cleveland State to accomplish their goals for this season, they will have to learn how to play with a lead. The Vikings took their foot off the gas in the second half of game two, which allowed for Fort Wayne to make the game more interesting than it needed to be.
If the Vikings want to compete against the upper echelon teams in the Horizon League, they will need to put 40 minutes of competitive basketball together. Despite this, the Vikings will start the conference season with a 2-0 record, their best start to Horizon League play since the 2014-2015 campaign.
Up next for Cleveland State, another back to back against in state rival Youngstown State. The Vikings will play their first set of home game this season December 26th and 27th against the Penguins. Tip off for both games is scheduled currently for 1pm.