The final two games of the regular season for Cleveland State brought forth a number of challenges as their annual trip to Wisconsin took much longer than expected due to heavy snow in the area. While the Vikings were able to upend Green Bay with a dominant second half performance, CSU was unable to put away Milwaukee in the regular season finale, closing the doors on a potential share of the league title for the Vikings. Despite the loss to the Panthers, the Vikings enter the conference tournament as the 3 seed, with a looming matchup with Robert Morris on Thursday night in the quarterfinals.
CSU’s Wisconsin trip was highlighted by two mammoth performances from junior forward Tae Williams, who’s game has continued to evolve over the course of the season. Williams led the way for Cleveland State in their 76-65 win over Green Bay with the performance of his career thus far as he poured in 30 points in addition to grabbing 14 rebounds. Williams’ combination of length and athleticism was far too much for Green Bay to handle with seven of his rebounds coming on the offensive end. Not only is Williams lethal in transition as a scorer, but his vision and passing are reminiscent of a point guard, which is something he takes great pride in.
The Vikings carried their proficient second half against the Phoenix into Milwaukee during the first half, but 31 points from BJ Freeman was ultimately too much to overcome as the Vikings came out extremely sluggish for the second half en route to an 81-72 Panthers victory. It was an uncharacteristic half defensively for Cleveland State as the Panthers pilled up 50 points on one of the league’s best defenses. This will certainly leave a bad taste in the collective mouths of the Vikings as they were unable to play their best with conference gold on the line. CSU will look to refocus with a third matchup with Robert Morris at home on Thursday.
Cleveland State’s two victories over RMU in the regular season were both defensive struggles for both sides, as the Colonials lack of a pure point guard in their starting lineup has hurt their ability to generate consistent offense against the Vikings and their pressure defense. However, Enoch Cheeks and Kahliel Spear are good enough to keep this game close themselves, as they both can score and defend as well as any duo in the Horizon League. If the Vikings are able to contain one of RMU’s dynamic duo, the Colonials’ best chance will come in another lower scoring affair.
In addition to CSU’s upcoming postseason battle, three Vikings earned all league honors as announced before tournament play began. Tristan Enaruna was voted first team, while Deshon Parker and Deante Johnson nabbed all defensive team honors. Each of these players have made significant contributions to the program both on the floor and behind the scenes. Perhaps what has been most impressive this season is that CSU’s culture remains as strong as ever despite the immense turnover from a year ago. Credit goes to Parker and Johnson for embracing the new coaching staff and changes that were happening around the program in the offseason. Their leadership goes well beyond the box score.
Tip-off for Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup with Robert Morris is scheduled for 8pm at The Wolstein Center. If the Vikings come out victorious, they will travel to Indianapolis for the semifinals on Monday, March 6th.