Cleveland State’s ability to hold onto leads in the second half was tested this past weekend in their series versus Green Bay. The Vikings blew large leads in both games of their previous set against Milwaukee, which resulted in a split series. It seems CSU has learned their lesson regarding playing with the lead late, as the Vikings took two hard fought contests from the Phoenix over the weekend. The wins also keep Cleveland State at the top of the Horizon League Standings with a 12-2 record in conference.
Game one of the set saw one of the most balanced offensive performances of the season for the Vikings, as all five starters scored in double figures. Senior point guard Craig Beaudion led the way with 16 points, six assists, and three steals on the night. Beaudion is playing his best basketball of the season right now, as the Chicago native has scored in double figures in four straight contests.
Beaudion’s much improved outside shooting has been a welcomed sight for the Vikings, as the senior is shooting over 44% from behind the arc, which is good for best on the team. While the Vikings certainly hang their collective hats on the defensive end of the floor, Beaudion’s recent offensive emergence adds another dangerous weapon to an already deep Cleveland State team.
Green Bay was led all weekend by sophomore standout Amari Davis, who had two of his three highest scoring output games versus the Vikings. Game one saw Davis drop 27 points, and he followed that up with 29 in game two.
Following the conclusion of Friday’s 74-68 Cleveland State win, head coach Dennis Gates had this to say regarding Davis, “He’s an all league guy. A great player. Quick first step…went 8-9 from the free throw line.” When asked how the Vikings defended Davis and Green Bay better in the second half of Friday’s victory, Gates went on to say, “I thought we went into that second half we defended their team, from the standpoint of contesting three pointers…they made one three pointer in the second half, I thought that was crucial with what we needed to adjust.” The Vikings held Green Bay to just 30 points in the second half, which was enough to ensure the victory.
Cleveland State’s composure was put to the test in game two of the weekend doubleheader, as the Vikings took an 18 point leader into halftime only to see the Phoenix chip away for the entirety of the second half. A Josh Jefferson layup made the score 44-36 with just over 14 minutes to play in regulation. While CSU fans might have been saying “here we go again”, the Vikings, led by Craig Beaudion, Tre Gomillion, and Algevon Eichelberger, who all scored 16 points, helped put the Phoenix away when it counted most with timely baskets in the second half.
Game two versus the Phoenix saw a breakthrough performance from senior big man Al Eichelberger, who has been sidelined at multiple points this season due to injuries to his foot and leg.
Following the conclusion of Cleveland State’s 73-65 victory on Saturday night, Gates had this to say about his graduate student, “Well, this was his season high in minutes this year…(29) I give our trainer Max Benton credit for getting him prepared and put in a situation where he can log these minutes. It’s tough going through a pandemic, it’s even tougher going through that with a foot sprain that Al had. And he had a knick knack on his knee. That’s what you have to look at when you’re trying to get him back into shape…we’re allowing him to have more rest during the week for rehab…to put him in a situation where he’s confident playing through those bumps and bruises.”
While the Vikings have certainly grown accustom to playing without their preseason all league selection big man, this performance on Saturday should give the CSU graduate student confidence in his abilities to contribute going forward. Up next for the Vikings, a pair of challenging road games against Oakland, which has always been a tough place for opposing teams to win. Tip off for game one of the two game weekend set is scheduled for Friday, February 5 at 7:00pm.