For the second consecutive week, the Cleveland State Vikings split a weekend series versus one of the upper echelon teams in the Horizon League. Unfortunately for the Vikings, Saturday’s loss somewhat overshadows Friday night’s victory due to the nature in which it happened.
The Vikings came into Friday’s contest against Milwaukee with a two game lead atop the Horizon League standings following the split last weekend versus second place Wright State. The Panthers were looking to rebound from two bad losses at the hands of Purdue Fort Wayne, a team that Milwaukee had a difficult time containing defensively.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, they would once again be without the services of senior big man Al Eichelberger, who re-aggravated his foot injury in the team’s last game versus Wright State. Cleveland State came out on Friday with as much energy as they have had all season, as the Vikings jumped out to a staggering 23-2 lead early on in the first half. Senior point guard Craig Beaudion paced CSU the entire way with 25 points, which was enough to lead all scorers on 8/10 shooting from the floor. Torrey Patton also contributed with 13 points, six rebounds, and a team high five assists.
When asked postgame about his veterans, head coach Dennis Gates stated, “We don’t have much experience when it comes down to the three year, 90 game guy…but between Deante, (Johnson) Craig, (Beaudion) Tre Gomillion, and Torrey (Patton) those are our most experienced guys that we’re playing, they’re going on game 20 through 30 in their career playing under our system. We had to make sure these guys are staying connected with each other…I thought our guys did a great job of not pointing fingers but looking in the mirror at themselves and seeing what they individually could do better…that’s what allowed us to respond in the second half.”
Despite the Vikings looking like they would run away with Friday’s contest early on, the Panthers spent the latter portion of the first half playing catchup extremely successfully. Milwaukee was led by former Kent State guard Deandre Gholston who scored 20 points on the night. Gholston and senior guard Te’Jon Lucas were extremely prolific in the Panther first half comeback, as the two helped Milwaukee cut the Viking lead to just two points at the intermission. While Cleveland State had much difficulty scoring near the end of the first half, it was their defensive prowess that secured the game one victory against the Panthers.
The Vikings came out of the locker room for the second half on Friday night looking to get back to their brand of basketball; high energy defense. CSU did that and then some, holding the Panthers to just 5/28 from the field after the intermission. This propelled the Vikings to a 64-53 victory on Friday night, in front of a national audience on ESPN 2. 53 points was the lowest scoring output from Milwaukee so far this season.
Game two of this past weekend’s double header provided a young Vikings team with an excellent learning opportunity for a team that still clings to a one game lead in the Horizon League standings. While the Vikings led for most of Saturday evening’s contest, the Panthers have shown they are never truly out of a game with their high powered duo of guards. Lucas and Gholston combined for 52 of the team’s 81 points in a dramatic 81-80 come from behind victory in overtime. Most disappointingly for the Vikings, they led the game 57-41 with over ten minutes remaining in regulation.
Following the disappointing loss, Gates stressed his team’s need to stay connected during the aftermath of this tough outcome when he stated, “We just gotta learn from it. Take it as a learning opportunity, like we’ve done all season long take it one game at a time. Even after wins, make sure we learn, and after losses make sure we learn and continue to grow. That’s the only thing we can focus on at the moment.”
Despite blown leads being a theme for the Vikings during this series versus Milwaukee, they were fortunate to play an extremely hard fought half of basketball in the second half of game one against the Panthers which aided them in a victory. The Vikings still maintain a one game lead in the Horizon League standings over Wright State, who swept IUPUI in their last weekend series.
The Vikings will look to rebound from their disappointing loss on Saturday in another home series. This time, the Green Bay Phoenix come to Cleveland for a two game set. Game one tips off Friday at 7pm.