The first of two semifinal matchups in the Horizon League tournament featured the one seeded Cleveland State Vikings versus the nine seed Milwaukee Panthers. The two teams played twice during the regular season in Cleveland, with the Panthers earning a series split after a dramatic late game comeback in game two of the double header.
Semifinal number two featured the Oakland Golden Grizzlies versus the Northern Kentucky Norse. Despite being known as a high octane offensive team, Oakland played perhaps their best defensive game of the season, in a 69-58 victory over the Norse.
The Vikings turned in one of their worst offensive performances of the season in the first half of their semi final matchup, only scoring 24 points before the intermission. Luckily for Cleveland State, their patented high pressure defense kept them in the game throughout, despite the poor scoring first half. The Vikings were able to hold Milwaukee’s two leading scorers, Deandre Gholston and Te’Jon Lucas to a combined 19 points on the night.
As was the case nearly all season, Cleveland State was led by a committee of contributors en route to an exhilarating 71-65 victory. Junior guard Tre Gomillion had an excellent game with 16 points, three rebounds, and two assists, including a game altering and one dunk with just over one minute remaining in regulation to put Cleveland State up for good. Torrey Patton also pitched in with 14 points, a team high 13 rebounds, and five assists.
When the game was not looking promising for the Vikings mid way through the second half, Head coach Dennis Gates needed some type of spark to help get his team back in the game. That spark came in the form of freshman forward Jayson Woodrich, who connected on three critical second half three pointers en route to Cleveland State’s come from behind victory.
Following the conclusion of the win, Gates said about his freshman sniper from Beachwood, Ohio, “He still hadn’t played his best game…but my hats off to him because he said, ‘coach, put me in, trust me, I’ll make some shots’ and he said that yesterday in shoot around…sometimes as a head coach you look to the side and the bench and you see fifteen guys with puppy dog eyes trying to figure out who you’re gonna put in, but me and Jayson made some eye contact, and I remembered what he had said yesterday.”
Great shooters generally have terrific basketball instincts, and Woodrich is no exception to that rule. The freshman finished with 11 huge points off of Cleveland State’s bench, all of which came in the second half. Milwaukee was led by senior guard Josh Thomas, who led all scorers in the game with 25 points.
The Grizzlies held Northern Kentucky to just 33.3% shooting from the field over the course of the game, in addition to limiting NKU freshman sensation Marques Warrick to just eight points on 3/15 shooting from the floor. Warrick was a huge factor in NKU’s success this season, making Oakland’s performance against the Horizon League’s freshman of the year all that more meaningful.
Oakland was led by a trio of double digit scorers, as junior big man Daniel Oladapo scored a team high 19 points. Point guard Jalen Moore played all 40 minutes, and compiled 14 points, six rebounds, and seven assists.
Moore’s ability to control each possession with his ball handling prowess was a major lift to the Golden Grizzlies’ offense, going against NKU’s tricky zone defense. Oakland is one of the younger teams in the Horizon League this year, with only one senior seeing playing time. While some may feel that Oakland is ahead of schedule in terms of competing for a league title, Greg Kampe’s squad has been growing all year with postseason play very much on their minds.
Up next for both the Vikings and Golden Grizzlies is a date with each other for the right to go to the NCAA Tournament. Tipoff of the Horizon League Championship game is scheduled for March 9 at 7:00pm. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
Feature image courtesy of Cleveland State Athletics.