The Cleveland State Men’s Basketball team came into this past weekend’s set of games against the Youngstown State Penguins looking to improve on their best start to league play since the 2014-2015 season.
The underhanded Penguins came into town without the services of star guard Darius Quisenberry for both contests, something that severely hindered YSU’s ability to consistently break CSU’s 2-2-1 full court press. While the pressure resulted in 23 turnovers over the course of the two games, it also forced YSU to get into their offensive sets slower than they would have liked following a CSU made field goal. The implementation of a full court press has aided the Vikings significantly so far in the young season.
Game One of the two-game set saw the Vikings put on their most prolific offensive performance of the season, as they scored 87 points on a staggering 55.4% from the field.
The Vikes were paced by senior Torrey Patton, who scored 17 points in just 23 minutes of action. D’Moi Hodge also contributed with 14 points, in addition to two blocked shots; something that is quickly becoming a staple of Hodge’s game on the defensive end. Chris Greene also deserves special recognition for his performance in game one as he poured in all of his 13 points in the second half. The Vikings were able to put together a solid 40 minutes of basketball in Saturday’s 87-69 win.
Game Two provided a different challenge for the Vikings, as YSU jumped out to an early lead forcing the Vikings in an early double digit hole. Despite missing Quisenberry, the Penguins benefited greatly from 24 points from senior guard Garrett Covington. While Youngstown State carried a ten point lead into the halftime intermission, CSU was able to chip away the entire second half.
Cleveland State was led by junior do it all guard Tre Gomillion, who poured in 23 points on a scorching 11-12 shooting from the field. While Gomillion has excelled at providing the Vikings with intangibles, it was his scoring that aided CSU tremendously on Sunday afternoon. Patton also contributed to the effort with 19 points and six rebounds.
Sunday’s contest also saw the return of Vikings big man Algevon Eichelberger. The preseason second team all conference selection played just three minutes off the bench for Cleveland State in his regular season debut as he works his way back from a foot injury. Despite YSU’s early lead, the Vikings second half onslaught was enough to propel them to a 81-74 victory.
Two things stand out as Cleveland State is now 4-0 in conference play, their best start since the 2010-2011 campaign. First and foremost, the depth CSU brings to the table this year has been more than a luxury for Gates and his staff. Only one player in each game this past weekend played over 30 minutes; Gomillion in Game One and Deante Johnson in Game Two. This allows for the Vikings to implement their full court press for the entirety of the game, as they constantly have fresh bodies checking in and out of the contest. Secondly, the impact the CSU bench has made from an energy standpoint has been outstanding.
Following game one of this weekend’s double header, Gates stated, “That’s Jeremy Sanchez…he’s the bench captain. Ben Sternberg is the assistant bench captain, and that’s their culture that they’re building, it’s their leadership and they’re making sure some things are taking place…we miss our fans without a doubt…these young men have to provide their own energy for each other and we were doing this last year.”
In a year where it is unknown if fans will be allowed in the building, it is imperative for any team’s bench to provide energy to players on the floor. So far this season, the Vikings bench has done that extremely well.
Up next for Cleveland State, a pair of road games against IUPUI. The Jaguars have played only one game so far this season, a non conference tilt against Tennessee State, due to COVID issues within their own program. Tip off of Game One is currently scheduled for January 1 at 2pm.