Gates’ Vikings making history to start conference play

CSU Senior big man Al Eichelberger with the ball during the Viking's game one victory versus IUPUI.

The Cleveland State Vikings came into this past weekend’s set of games versus IUPUI looking to build upon what has been a historic start to conference play. After a trio of non conference games that provided more questions than answers, the Vikings have been stellar on both ends of the floor since league play began. With a pair of victories over the Jaguars, the Vikings are off to their best start to league play since the 2007-2008 season, where they started the conference slate 7-0.

The first of two contests between Cleveland State and IUPUI was closely contested throughout. Junior D’Moi Hodge and senior Torrey Patton led the Vikings with 17 and 14 points respectively. Additionally, Friday’s game saw an increased role for senior Algevon Eichelberger, who is working his way back from a foot injury that forced him to miss the first six games of the season. The big man recorded 10 minutes of action in the first game of the set, a season high.

Following the conclusion of Friday’s 65-62 Cleveland State victory, Head Coach Dennis Gates stated, “His (Eichelberger’s) experience alone gives us some resolve. It gives us sort of a security. He came away with five rebounds but two big free throws when we were not executing from the free throw line at all. That’s what a senior grad student does…what he did wasn’t really shown in the stat sheet, but he gave his teammates confidence to see him out there.”

Eichelberger will certainly see an increased role going forward, as the CSU big man was a preseason second team all league pick going into the year. IUPUI was paced by senior guard Marcus Burk who led all scorers with 18 points. The Vikings had a tough time containing Burk in the mid range game, despite holding the first team all Horizon League preseason pick to 1-6 from behind the arc.

The Vikings were able to escape with the game one victory, despite only converting on twelve of their 26 free throw attempts. Additionally, CSU committed 20 turnovers while only dishing out 13 assists. Those two issues will have to correct themselves as the Vikings start to play some of the upper echelon teams in the Horizon League.

As was the case in CSU’s prior two game sets, the second half of the back to back provided a challenge of a different nature for the Vikings. Cleveland State got off to a sloppy start offensively, scoring just twelve points in the first twelve minutes of game action. However, their defense kept them in the game throughout, as they were able to hold the Jaguars to only 36.5% shooting over the course of the contest. Cleveland State was led by junior guard Tre Gomillion who bounced back after a rough outing the day before. The Augusta, Georgia native poured in 18 points in addition to grabbing four rebounds.

Following the conclusion of CSU’s 59-49 victory, Coach Gates stated, “Tre Gomillion is one of our most important players. The spirit about him, the unselfishness about him is very important to our culture, on and off the court. He’s a team guy, and he doesn’t wanna let anyone down; coaches, teammates, himself…ultimately we weren’t gonna win this game without him…he came away and didn’t allow some travels or early turnovers yesterday to hamper his spirit. But he came back focused.”

Combine Gomillion’s spirited performance with an even increased role for Eichelberger, and suddenly the Vikings are a lot more experienced of a team than they were at the beginning of conference play. Eichelberger led the Vikings in minutes off the bench with 20.

With the pair of victories over the weekend, the Vikings are off to their best start in conference play since the 2007-2008 season. Coach Gates is setting the culture for a Cleveland State team that also finished the fall semester with a cumulative grade point average of 3.586, the second highest for any semester in team history. This has the makings of a special group, and Cleveland fans around the city need to begin to take notice.

Up next for the Vikings, another weekend back to back; this time against Horizon League power Northern Kentucky. Tipoff for game one is scheduled for Friday January 8th at 7:00pm.

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