In what was their first NCAA tournament game since 2009, the Cleveland State Vikings faced off with one of the most prolific teams in the nation; a Houston Cougars squad that has not lost a game since the middle of February. Even without the services of starting point guard DeJon Jarreau for nearly the entire contest due to a hip injury, Houston utilized an extremely fast beginning of the second half en route to a 87-56 round one victory over Cleveland State.
The Cougars were led by a balanced scoring attack, as six players scored in double figures. Leading scorer Quinton Grimes hit his season average with 18, and sophomore Marcus Sasser was not far behind with 14. The Cougars also benefited greatly from the performance of freshman point guard Tramon Mark, who in the absence of Jarreau complied 15 points in addition to three steals. While Houston’s offense did not run that smoothly in the first half, the Cougars adjusted at halftime and benefited greatly from a 50 point second half.
Houston is one of the best rebounding teams in the country despite their lack of intimidating size. The Cougars out rebounded the Vikings by 38-24, in addition to grabbing 16 offensive rebounds. Starting big man Reggie Chaney led the team with five offensive rebounds on the night in just 18 minutes of game action.
The Vikings struggled all night long offensively versus Houston’s high octane pressure defense. CSU’s two leaders that led them through the Horizon League tournament struggled to score, as Torrey Patton and Tre Gomillion only had eight and six points respectively. Cleveland State was led by D’Moi Hodge, as the junior was the lone Viking in double figures with 11 points and three steals of his own. Deante Johnson also did he absolute best down low as he accumulated four blocked shots on the night for the green and white.
While the overall sentiment postgame from head coach Dennis Gates was disappointment in wake of the first round tournament exit, he was also very thankful for the season he was able to have with his team. He also showed excitement for the future when he stated, “When you look at our tenure here since August of 2019, we hadn’t had a summer workout and postseason workout because of the pandemic and me getting the job and taking over the program in August, and that’s an integral part of building a program…but I truly believe in professional development and student athlete development and we’ll make sure we continue to address those things…I’m very excited about our program.”
While it may not have been the outcome that the Vikings were hoping for in the first round of the NCAA tournament versus Houston, Cleveland State fans, alumni, and students should all be very proud of what this program was able to accomplish this season. In what was a season defined by overcoming obstacles that the COVID-19 pandemic threw in their way, the Vikings persevered the entire year, and grew together as a unit on the floor and off of it as well. This team has embodied the workmen like attitude that Cleveland fans love all year long, and will continue to do so as long as Dennis Gates is leading the program. In what will be his first normal offseason as head coach, expect the returning Vikings players to all take the next steps in their individual and collective games going into next season.