As we enter the back half of February, many teams around the country already have their fates sealed in terms of positioning for postseason play. However, that is far from the case for the Cleveland State Vikings as with just four games to play in the regular season, CSU is locked in a tie for second place in the Horizon League following a pair of impressive home victories over Robert Morris and Youngstown State.
An urgent response was sorely needed following the setbacks in Michigan and the Vikings received that over the weekend in both ballgames. What was most impressive is both games had a postseason feel where they are oftentimes won in the final moments. CSU was able to make enough plays in both contests offensively, something that has been an ongoing question mark as the Vikings rely on a bevy of players to produce.
Friday’s 57-55 victory over Robert Morris was a prototypical late season conference game where the teams have already had a look at one another. Both teams struggled to score consistently as they both shot under 40% from the field collectively. RMU’s lack of a natural point guard once again hurt them against CSU’s high octane pressure defense. RMU’s lead guard Enoch Cheeks played well, scoring 17 points, but his four turnovers were costly as the Vikings forced 14 Colonial miscues as a team.
Offensively, the Vikings were led by four double digit scorers which has been an ongoing theme all year. Deshon Parker led the team with 12 points, with Tristan Enaruna and Drew Lowder each not far behind with 11. Additionally, Spider Johnson had an excellent game recording a double double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. These are the type of games where Cleveland State’s defense can carry them, as shots were not falling at a consistent rate. Being able to win in different ways is crucial come tournament time and this past weekend was further evidence that the Vikings can win in both defensive slugfests and shootouts.
Super Bowl Sunday saw the Vikings host first place Youngstown State in a critical rematch of their game from December 29th which saw the Penguins run away with the game in the second half with a barrage of three pointers. YSU wants to get up and down at a frantic pace to allow their shooters to play in space. However, Sunday saw the Vikings defense stifle Youngstown State from behind the arc as YSU shot a minuscule 6-24 as a team. The Vikings did an excellent job rotating defensively in the half court, forcing the Penguins to make uncomfortable decisions with the ball when the open shot from behind the arc was not there.
CSU’s defending of the three point shot was not the only impressive factor at play in Sunday’s victory as offensively, Tae Williams had perhaps his most complete game of the season en route to an 81-78 win. Williams led the Vikings with 20 points but did so on a staggering 9-14 from the field. CSU is unlike YSU in that they are more selective in how they go about trying to score in transition.However, when you have a player like Tae Williams who is perhaps the fastest player in the league with the ball in his hands, some exceptions have to be made.
Williams has been a weapon in transition all season, but his awareness in the half court has grown tremendously from the first game of the season. He now more often than not makes the correct play with the ball in his hands as his speed and first step can break down a defense seemingly at will. While there has been tremendous growth this year from nearly everyone on CSU’s roster, Williams sticks out as someone who has taken his game to another level since opening night.
Up next for the Vikings, two final regular season home games on Friday and Sunday before hitting the road to Wisconsin to finish out the year. Friday night, the Vikings will do battle with Wright State on ESPNU, while Sunday’s clash with Northern Kentucky will have plenty on the line as both teams currently sit tied for second place in the league standings. Game times are scheduled for 7pm Friday, and 3pm Sunday at The Wolstein Center.