Cleveland State took their annual trip to southern Ohio and Kentucky over the weekend and the results were mixed. After an impressive 71-67 road victory over a Wright State team that got off to an early 11-0 start against the Vikings, CSU’s winning streak came to an end on Sunday afternoon against North Kentucky. Arguably, Cleveland State’s most impressive victory and most disappointing defeat came in the same weekend, which leaves the Vikings needing to regroup following Sunday’s defeat.
The Nutter Center has been an extremely difficult environment for opposing teams to pull out victories in recent years, and for the second straight season Cleveland State went to Wright State and came out with a victory, this time behind the heroic efforts of Dayton native Torrey Patton. The CSU senior finished with 25 points, five rebounds, two assists, and perhaps most impressively four steals to propel Cleveland State to victory. While Patton was the major star offensively against the Raiders, it took a total team effort defensively to recover from the early hole the Vikings put themselves in on Friday night.
Shortly after falling behind 11-0 against the Raiders, Dennis Gates decided to make a change to their approach on the defensive end of the floor. Cleveland State is known for their tenacious man to man defense, but after falling behind early Gates switched it up to a 2-3 on the defensive end of the floor, something they have not employed on a regular basis this year. They did have success running a zone in the first matchup with Wright State however, which gave Gates confidence in making the switch. Cleveland State used their zone to slowly chip away at the Raiders in the first half, before ultimately upending Tanner Holden and Trey Calvin late in the game. Wright State committed 26 turnovers against a Cleveland State zone defense that was just as active as their man to man defense is on most evenings.
The most impressive aspect of Cleveland State’s victory over Wright State was the work of their zone defense. To not have a drop off when a man to man team switches to a zone for matchup purposes speaks to overall willingness to learn from the players. Ryan Sharbaugh is the “defensive coordinator” for Cleveland State, and has been one of the most important members of the CSU coaching staff, as his defense was the anchor of the conference championship winning team from a season ago. The adaptability of Cleveland State on the defensive end of the floor speaks to Sharbaugh’s ability to teach defense at an extremely high level.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, it was not all roses on this brief road trip as they stumbled late in the second half against Northern Kentucky in a game and situation that Cleveland State would love to have back. Cleveland State was hurt on the perimeter by a pair of Norse youngsters as freshman Sam Vinson and sophomore Marquez Warrick combined for 37 points and only three turnovers. While turnovers were a deciding factor in Friday’s tilt, Sunday was decided on the glass, as Northern Kentucky out rebounded the Vikings 37-28. The Norse also grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, a number that will not sit well with the CSU coaching staff. Offensive rebounds are easier to grab for teams that shoot as many three pointers as Northern Kentucky due to long misses, but Cleveland State was subjected to a level of physicality that they could not overcome on this specific brisk Sunday afternoon.
Will this lack of physicality be a one game fluke, or is it the sign of a larger concern? This particular Cleveland State team is a tad undersized in the starting lineup. However, the starters for the most part play bigger than they are, especially Gomillion, Patton, and Johnson up front. Up next for the Vikings, the final home stand of the regular season which will be kicked off against Green Bay and Milwaukee this upcoming weekend in a Friday/Sunday series. Tip off for Friday’s game against Green Bay is scheduled for 7pm.