Vikings beat Grizzlies to earn Horizon League crown

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Courtesy of CSU Athletics

Following a regular season in which the Horizon League was able to successfully play over 90% of its scheduled league games while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, the league held an extremely scintillating conference tournament, with a birth to the NCAA’s field of 68 given to the winner. In what was the final game of the conference season, the Cleveland State Vikings did battle with the Oakland Golden Grizzlies with the Horizon League’s top prize at stake.

Despite a short flurry from the Grizzlies to start the game from behind the arc, Cleveland State utilized their high octane pressure defense all night to bother Oakland’s offense in an 80-69 Cleveland State victory. With the win, CSU earned their first trip to the NCAA tournament in twelve years.

In itssemifinal matchup against Northern Kentucky, Oakland got the ball down low to Dan Oladapo early and often, which resulted in open looks from the perimeter later in the game. Cleveland State severely limited Oladapo’s involvement in Oakland’s offense, holding the big man to just 4 points on 2/7 shooting from the field. The Grizzlies did not look to get the ball inside all night, as they hoisted up a total of 38 three pointers over the course of the game. On the other hand, the Vikings owned the paint all night long, scoring an overwhelming majority of their points from up close.

The Vikings were led by their first team all league selection Torrey Patton, who dominated the championship game with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Patton, the Horizon League tournament’s most outstanding player, recorded a double double in each of Cleveland State’s conference tournament games. Cleveland State’s pair of juniors Tre Gomillion and D’Moi Hodge each also had terrific championship games. Gomillion, a guard who does most of his damage down low, had 16 points, 13 rebounds, and three steals. Hodge scored 15 points, in addition to grabbing eight rebounds and blocking three shots, a staple of Hodge’s defensive prowess that has been on display all season long.

When asked postgame what it means to him to have brought a title back to Cleveland in just his second year on the job, Cleveland State head coach Dennis Gates was quick to sing the praises of others when he stated, “This is an opportunity for our past players of the program, Norris Cole, all those guys, this is a moment for them.

:They put time and effort into the building that we are following in their footsteps,” Gates added. “This is for John McClendon, this is for Kevin Mackey. This is for those guys along the way…This is for Viking nation, this is for the city of Cleveland. We’re in the same footprint as the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians, and Cleveland Cavaliers…One thing I know about the city of Cleveland is that we have some traditional, rich sports fans that’s enjoying this moment as well, so this is for them…When they think 20 years down the line, this is a hall of fame team for Cleveland State University.”

The culture that Gates is building at Cleveland State is a transformational environment where athletes not only excel on the floor, but off of it as well. Not only has he turned around the program in terms of basketball results, but he has shifted the culture into one where his players take their academics and community service just as seriously as their basketball.

Up next for the Vikings, the NCAA Tournament. The bracket for the field of 68 will be unveiled on Sunday, March 14, with the tournament beginning next week. Since the entire tournament is taking place in Indianapolis, which is where the Vikings played the Horizon League tournament, the team and staff will remain in Indianapolis for the duration of the week.

Feature image courtesy of Cleveland State Athletics

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