The Cleveland State Vikings rode a wave of momentum into this past weekend’s action following wins over Robert Morris and Youngstown State the week prior. To finish out the home potion of the regular season schedule, CSU grew their winning streak to four with two more critical victories over Wright State and Northern Kentucky to put them only half a game behind Youngstown State in the conference standings.
The Vikings’ second victory of the season against Wright State was perhaps CSU’s most impressive performance considering how they dominated the 85-68 win. Due to foul trouble, Deante Johnson played just 16 minutes, and yet Cleveland State obliterated Wright State on the glass, out rebounding the Raiders 46-28 over the course of the game. This is significant for multiple reasons as not only was CSU’s starting center not on the floor for a majority of the game, but the Raiders came into the contest the second best rebounding team in the Horizon League, while the Vikings are in the middle of the pack in team rebounds per game.
In Johnson’s absence, Tristan Enaruna’s athleticism was far too much for the Raider big men. The junior scored 20 points, grabbed eleven rebounds, six of which were offensive, and dished out four assists, while also blocking three shots. Early on in the season, there may have been a question as too who the go to guy would be for Cleveland State in crunch time. However, those questions now have a definitive answer as Tristan Enaruna has established himself as one of the elite two way players in the Horizon League.
At 6’8”, Enaruna’s versatility as both a scorer and defender stand out when watching the Iowa State transfer. With his combination of length and athleticism, he is able to get to his preferred spot on the floor with ease. Additionally, his finishing around the basket with both hands has improved since the beginning of the season as he has become more comfortable playing through contact. Defensively, Enaruna fits in tremendously alongside Tae Williams and Spider Johnson in the front court. Each one of the three is usually the better athlete in their individual matchup and with their defensive principles being extremely sound, opposing teams have a difficult matchup with CSU’s frontline.
On Sunday, the Vikings were able to exact some revenge on Northern Kentucky for their matchup earlier in the season where Marques Warrick connected on a game winning three pointer at the buzzer. The rematch was equally as intense as once again, defense reigned supreme in a battle of the two of top teams in the conference. However, this time it was the Vikings making that were able to make the crucial plays at the end to put themselves over the top in a 64-63 thriller.
On Senior Day, CSU’s backbone Johnson led the team in scoring and rebounding with 16 and 10. Jayson Woodrich came off the bench and converted on a trio of three pointers which also loomed large. However, it was two free throws from Deshon Parker in front of his family, including his brother who is an assistant coach at Baylor, with three seconds left that put the game out of reach. A fitting end to Senior Day as Parker’s leadership and presence has been monumental in addition to his stellar play on the floor as the quarterback of Cleveland State’s attack.
The upcoming Wisconsin trip carries significant weight for the Vikings, as two victories will earn them their third straight year of winning at least a share of the regular season conference title. The Vikings will battle Green Bay on Thursday night, followed by a showdown with Milwaukee on Saturday that could impact the tournament seeding heavily. Tip off for the two games are scheduled for 9pm and 8pm eastern respectively.