Following an auspicious start to the season last year, the Cleveland State Vikings put an emphasis on making their mark early. Through a pair of regular season contests, the Vikings sit at 1-1 following a heavyweight clash on opening night in Pittsburgh against a savvy Duquesne squad, and a home victory over DIII Defiance, the final non DI opponent for CSU this year.
While Cleveland State was ultimately unable to come away with the road win at Duquesne, the Vikings showed many signs of life that should carry on into the meat and potatoes of the season in the 79-77 defeat. Firstly, Drew Lowder was sensational as he poured in a career high 27 points on an efficient 9-16 shooting. The sharpshooter also connected on six three pointers, many of which came at critical junctures to keep the Vikings alive. Lowder was used both in the starting lineup and off the bench in his first season at CSU, but will certainly take on a larger role this year, as both a scorer and facilitator alongside Tevin Smith in the backcourt.
Additionally, Tae Williams has carried over his momentum from the preseason as he has taken his game to a new level. Not only is he shooting the ball from the perimeter, but his ball handling and passing skills have gotten better as well, which makes him a threat to go coast to coast whenever he gets the ball in his hands. Williams finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and a pair of steals in the opener.
Wednesday night saw the Vikings crush another DIII opponent, as the Vikings trounced Defiance College 102-41. Games like this allow for the Vikings to showcase their depth, and they did so in spades as eight Vikings scored at least 7 points on the night. CSU was led by sophomore Ramar Pryor, as in only 13 minutes off the bench he amassed 14 points and six steals. Following the game, Dainyal Robinson lauded Pryor’s effort and commitment when he said, “Ray came so far from his freshman year, to the time he got here, to the summer he worked really hard, staying here all summer, didn’t really take a break. He’s done some extra conditioning, got extra shots, and all those things are paying off for him…you have to have guys like that on your team to build and compete for championships. He’s a total team player and he represents our program the right way.”
An area of fascination will be how Robinson and his staff divvy up minutes going forward, especially in the backcourt. The Vikings have amassed a squad with many capable ball handlers who can impact the game in different capacities, which can make rotations a challenge. When asked about this following Wednesday’s victory, Robinson stated, “The good thing about having depth is you have competition amongst each other, the players figure that out by getting them in competitive situations. We’ve got some good high character guys, and when we talk to our guys about doing their job and playing for each other is a big part of it…if we’re playing as hard as we’re capable of playing guys can’t play the entire game.”
One aspect of the game in which the Vikings need to improve on heading into conference play will be the free throws. As a team, the Vikings are only converting on 65% of their free attempt through the first two contests. Cleveland State will undoubtably play in many close games this year, as evident in their opening night thriller against a very good Duquesne team. Fouls shots have been a challenge for the Vikings the last few seasons, and while the sample is small, the results have not been promising thus far.
Up next for the Vikings, a home clash on Saturday night versus instate rival Ohio University. This game has recently become a yearly tradition, and the Vikings are looking for their third victory over the Bobcats in program history. Tip-off Saturday is scheduled for 6pm.