In what was one of the most exhilarating games in all of college basketball this season, let alone the Horizon League, the Cleveland State Vikings defeated the Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons in triple overtime, 108-104 in the Horizon League Championship quarterfinal. Cleveland State was able to prevail despite multiple late game pushes from a gritty Purdue Fort Wayne team.
The Vikings were led by three of their most experienced players; Torrey Patton, Tre Gomillion, and Al Eichelberger. Patton recorded another scintillating stat line, as the senior had 30 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists. Gomillion played the entire contest besides for one minute, and added in 22 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists of his own. Eichelberger played perhaps his best game of the season in the most critical time. The senior had 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists off the bench, including a heroic three point shot in the final seconds of double overtime when the Vikings were on the verge of falling.
Eichelberger’s role also increased due to an ankle injury for Deante Johnson. While Johnson did not appear on the pregame injury report, the junior first team all Horizon League defender played just 11 minutes in Tuesday’s win, and could be seen hobbling around the bench area throughout the night. While Johnson can be viewed as Cleveland State’s defensive anchor down low, Eichelberger adds a unique presence on the offensive end as a back to the basket post up player who is also an extremely talented passer.
Following the conclusion of the triple overtime thriller, Eichelberger was able to reflect on what’s been an up and down season for him personally, when he stated, “I don’t care about myself. As long as we’re out here winning, as long as we’re going out there and playing hard every night that’s all I can ask for…personal accolades mean nothing to me. As long as the team’s doing good and everybody is healthy that’s all I can ask for.”
The senior was voted second team all-Horizon League in the preseason, but dealt with multiple nagging injuries that forced him to miss time early on in the year. Despite that, Eichelberger has been a steadying veteran presence for an overall inexperienced Cleveland State team.
Winning in March is all about survive and advance, and the Vikings did exactly that in Tuesday’s epic victory. When asked about the mental fortitude of his group following the grueling victory, Dennis Gates stated, “I think the entire season has prepared us for that moment. There wasn’t a situation we hadn’t gone through this season, in our first phase, that we couldn’t use in this game, and our guys just went back to their mental rolodex, they were able to not panic in those situations, they were able to keep their composure in those situations where we were down, and execute.”
There were multiple instances late in the overtime sessions where things looked bleak for the Vikings, yet they battled back each time. That experience will serve them well going into the semi finals.
Up next for the Vikings, a date in the semi finals with Milwaukee, who is coming off a monumental upset of Wright State, the odds on favorite to win the tournament. Tip off is scheduled for Monday March 8th at 6:30 and the game will be broadcast on ESPNU.