Two of Cleveland State’s last three games followed a similar script, as missed opportunities in the second half ultimately ended up costing the Vikings on Thursday against UIC, and in Monday night’s triple overtime thriller versus Purdue Fort Wayne. Despite remaining at the top of the Horizon League standings due to having more league games under their belt than Oakland, inopportune mistakes have begun to crop up for the Vikings when attempting to put opposing teams away, which is cause for concern for Dennis Gates and his staff. Playing with the same energy you started the game with when you are in the lead is a lesson the Vikings have hopefully learned in their most recent stretch of conference games.
CSU began this most recent stretch against a UIC team that at the time was under the impression that they were ineligible for postseason play this season as a result of how the school went about their switch from the Horizon League to Missouri Valley Conference. While that decision has since been changed, the Flames used it as fuel to help propel them back in the second half after the Vikings took an eleven point lead into the halftime break. Despite outshooting the Flames from both the field and behind the three point arc, critical misses from the free throw line along with 18 turnovers allowed for UIC to remain in striking distance late into the contest. While Torrey Patton and D’Moi Hodge combined for 55 points, it was a Kevin Johnson made jumper with one second left that ultimately gave a very emotional UIC team the 76-75 victory. Only four second half assists as a team for the Vikings is further proof that CSU’s offense sputters when playing with a lead.
Cleveland State’s weekend was not all sour as they hosted the struggling IUPUI Jaguars on the Vikings’ senior day. The Jaguars only have six players on their roster currently, which allowed CSU to wear them down quickly with their depth, en route to a 83-45 win. Twelve seniors were honored in a postgame ceremony, despite some of the players maintaining an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic. It will be interesting to see if any of them take their extra year to pursue an advanced degree, similarly to Al Eichelberger who was also honored on Saturday.
The Vikings’ recent three game sprint ended in dramatic fashion against perhaps the team they have gotten to know the best over the last two season; Purdue Fort Wayne. The two schools played a triple overtime classic last season in the Horizon League tournament, and they followed that up this year with yet another game that went into triple overtime on Monday night. Unfortunately for the Vikings, this one did not go in their favor as their fumbled away another double digit second half lead en route to the 102-98 loss.
As stated before, Cleveland State’s offense is at it’s best when the assist numbers are high. This was not the case on Monday night even with their early lead that lasted till the middle portion of the second half. The Vikings only accumulated 14 assists on 33 made field goals. This is not a recipe for sustained offensive success for the Vikings as they do not have the collective perimeter shooting needed to win when the ball is not consistently moving. The assist numbers have not been as high as they have been the last few games for the Vikings, as this should be an area of emphasis going forward. Getting this aspect of the offense right will be crucial as we get closer to postseason play.
Up next for the Vikings, a pair of road games over the weekend against Milwaukee and Green Bay. Tipoff for game one is scheduled for Friday at 8 EST in Milwaukee.