As the regular season begins to wind down, the race for a top four seed in the conference tournament is underway, as those teams will have hosting rights in the first round of the Horizon League tournament. As the standings currently reflect, Cleveland State is amidst a five team logjam that is comprised of a pair of 8-2, and a trio of 7-3 ball clubs. At 7-3, the Vikings can look back on the end of their most recent road trip with much to feel good about, despite the buzzer beating loss to Northern Kentucky.
Thursday’s battle with NKU was reminiscent of a backyard brawl, with the Norse landing the final blow at the final whistle. A Marquese Warrick three pointer from near half court gave Northern Kentucky the 57-56 victory. Despite the loss, the Vikings displayed the ability for their game to travel against a difficult opponent. The top two defenses in the Horizon League had one of the game’s of the year despite the lack of offensive production, and the rematch in Cleveland will carry high stakes.
What was most impressive about Cleveland State’s past week was their collective ability to bounce back mentally from a heartbreaking defeat. Coaches oftentimes preach never getting too emotional after both wins and losses, and the Vikings executed this task to a tee in Saturday’s 85-77 win over Wright State at The Nutter Center. Prior to this game, the Vikings had been going with Jayson Woodrich in the starting lineup to add some more size to help with rebounding. However, Daniyal Robinson went back to his opening night lineup with Drew Lowder accompanying the usual four. Lowder has been a spark plug for the Vikings off the bench, oftentimes playing starters minutes.
Robinson went deep into his bench during the first half of Saturday’s game, and received contributions from multiple young reserves. Freshman Ramar Pryor shined against the Raiders scoring eight points in his eight minutes of action. Additionally, fellow Freshman Dylan Arnett had perhaps his most impressive run of the season, as Robinson has been raving about his improvements in practice. The Vikings should continue to utilize their younger reserves in spurts as they have each impressed when called upon.
Like all good teams do, the Raiders made their run in the second half and the Vikings were able to ultimately fend them off to close out the game. Tristan Enaruna and Deshon Parker were excellent in crunch time as the game slowed down. This shows mental toughness and fortitude as the veterans and coaching staff deserve a ton of credit for the way they stayed composed amidst a lengthy Wright State run.
Cleveland State’s formula right now is both effective and exciting to observe. An active, pressure oriented defense, accompanied by an athletic frontline and stingy guard play on both ends of the floor. They have a specific brand of basketball that they bring to each game, something that was also evident in the Dennis Gates era. Robinson is well on his way to becoming yet another coaching hire success by athletic director Scott Garrett and his team.
Up next for the Vikings, two weekend home game against Purdue Fort Wayne and IUPUI. Both squads will have revenge on their minds as the Vikings won games on their home floors earlier this month.