For the first time since the 2010-2011 season, the Cleveland State Vikings have won a share of the Horizon League regular season championship. The Vikings share the title with Wright State, and earned the number one seed in the conference tournament after a weekend series split versus Purdue Fort Wayne.
CSU faced PFW a total of four times during the regular season, as a second series was thrown together at the beginning of the conference season after Robert Morris had to cancel their series against the Vikings due to COVID issues. While the Vikings did not put their best foot forward on Friday night against the Mastodons, a dominant second half performance propelled CSU to victory in game two.
Cleveland State struggled mightily on both ends of the floor in the game one loss. Not only did CSU shoot under 40%, but IPFW shot a staggering 56.3% from the field over the course of the game. While Cleveland State was able to keep it close in part thanks to 15 Mastodon turnovers, it was senior point guard Jalon Pipkins who put the game out of reach with multiple clutch baskets down the stretch.
The Vikings were led by Torrey Patton who scored 17, and Alec Oglesby who poured in 13 for the green and white. Chris Greene also came in off the bench when Deante Johnson went down with an ankle injury and added 11 points of his own. Cleveland State’s bench has been an area of strength all year, and even in losses the Vikings have gotten contributions from key reserves such as Greene, Oglesby, Al Eichelberger, Jayson Woodrich, and Yahel Hill.
Despite Friday’s loss, the final game of the regular season saw CSU playing for the right to be deemed Co regular season champions in the Horizon League. The Vikings came out extremely tight on Saturday evening, as they only scored 22 points in the first half. Thankfully for CSU, their stingy defense kept them in it, as they forced 17 Mastodon turnovers over the course of the contest. The Vikings came out with an extreme sense of urgency to begin the second half, as four CSU players recorded double figure scoring nights.
However, Cleveland State was sparked by the play of seldom used guard Jeremy Sanchez, who injected life into his team with defense and toughness at a crucial point in the second half.
Following the conclusion of Saturday’s victory, Gates had nothing but glowing remarks for Sanchez, when he stated, “I know what Jeremy has done consistently, and it’s difficult because he hadn’t played the same minutes he played last year.
“He stayed ready for the moment in arguably his most important and his best game of his career,” Gates added about Sanchez. “He was able to put his team on his back defensively and spread some of that enthusiasm and effort that he’s known for, and fight. And the guys fought with him, they didn’t leave him out there by himself. At that point they knew once Jeremy crossed the threshold of the court, they knew what time it was defensively, they knew what time it was emotionally.”
It was yet another feel-good story for the Vikings over the weekend, in a bizarre year that has been filled with both highs and lows. Gates and his staff have successfully navigated the pandemic season in a fashion that should make all Clevelanders proud, as his team has truly shown grit and toughness throughout the year.
With earning the number one overall seed in the conference tournament, the Vikings will receive a first round bye and host a quarterfinal contest against the lowest reaming seed in the tournament. Tipoff for that game is currently scheduled for March 2 at 7:00pm.