Dating back to December 13th, each game the Vikings played was decided by ten points or fewer. Despite Cleveland State’s impressive record in this run of contests, two wire to wire victories over the weekend against Green Bay and Milwaukee were a welcomed sight for Dennis Gates and his team. While the Vikings have been somewhat inconsistent on the offensive end as of late, they were able to deliver two of their best performances of the season in a row as they gear up for the final five regular season games of the year, all of which will be on the road.
Friday’s tilt with Green Bay saw the Vikings play their best game of the year on the offensive end. Cleveland State shot a staggering 63.5% as a team against an undersized and undermanned Phoenix squad. Perhaps most impressively however, nobody on the team amassed more than five assists, but they accumulated 24 total as a group on 33 made field goals. The Vikings’ offense is at its best when players are moving off ball with pace and there is not an over abundance of isolation dribbling. The entire team was using the pass effectively on Friday night which led to the high number of assists. Torrey Patton led the way in assists with five, while Deshon Parker, Deante Johnson, and Yahel Hill had four. Cleveland State’s balance and depth was on full display on Friday night as a young Green Bay team had no answers for what Cleveland State wanted to do offensively in the 85-69 route.
Cleveland State followed up Friday’s win with another impressive outing against Milwaukee. While their field goal percentage from Friday was nearly impossible to match, the Vikings still put 84 points on the board as they had perhaps their best game of the season from the free throw line. Foul shots have been an issue for Cleveland State this season as their inability to convert from the line has at times prevented them from closing out games. However, that was not the case on Sunday afternoon as CSU shot 19-22 as a team. This effort significantly aided the Vikings’ ability to hold off Milwaukee, especially in the second half. Free throws are all about routine and confidence, and if the Vikings can consistently find their rhythm on foul shots it makes this group all the more dangerous heading into postseason play.
The Vikings also did an excellent job defensively on Sunday afternoon stifling Milwaukee’s two scoring threats, DeAndre Gholston and Pat Baldwin, Jr. The two combined to shoot 6-25 against the pressure of the CSU defense. Cleveland State threw many different players at Baldwin specifically, as the projected NBA lottery pick saw time against a combination of Johnson, Tre Gomillion, and D’Moi Hodge. Each of them made Baldwin uncomfortable in their own ways but it was ultimately their ability to force Baldwin off his spot offensively which created some difficult looks for the future NBA star.
While Cleveland State delivered two complete 40 minute performances over the weekend, one player’s contributions as of late stick out in terms of how he is impacting the wins that Cleveland State is amassing. Cleveland native Hill would most likely have a starting spot on many other teams in the Horizon League, but he finds himself in a truly unique situation at CSU in a role that maximizes his greatest strength; scoring. Hill is the all time leader in points at Cleveland Heights High School as he possesses the ability to score both off the dribble and on pull up attempts. His combined 28 points in the two games over the weekend gave CSU a major spark off the bench as he is becoming one of the most dependable members of that unit. Cleveland State’s DNA is hard nosed defense being their greatest ally each and every game. If the Vikings are gonna repeat as conference champions, they will need to manufacture enough points to upend a team like Oakland who has a plethora of offensive firepower. Having the luxury of bringing a player like Hill off the bench gives Gates a ton of flexibility in terms of his backcourt rotation. Add in a potential return of Craig Beaudion sooner than later and the Vikings should be all set for another run in the Horizon League tournament.
Up next for Cleveland State, the final two home games of the regular season schedule this weekend, granted, CSU will likely host a game in the conference tournament. First up, UIC will make the trip to Cleveland for a Thursday night affair. Tip off is scheduled for 7pm.