Vikings split conference openers with injury bug in effect

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Credit: csuvikings.com

The ever controversial beginning of the Horizon League conference slate puts coaches in a bind as they are forced to play two games that will have a large bearing on the final standings in March. While the Cleveland State Vikings got off to an auspicious beginning to league play with a blowout loss at the hands of Youngstown State, they were able to salvage the week with a home victory over Detroit Mercy.

Wednesday’s conference opener in Youngstown saw the Vikings get off to a slow start in the first half, which they were unable to recover from as the game progressed in what ended in a 94-69 defeat. YSU did a tremendous job of limiting Tristan Enaruna’s shot attempts, as the do it all forward was fourth on the team in attempts on the night with seven, despite finishing second in total points with 13.

One problem the Vikings are having is Enaruna is being forced to defend opposing centers in many lineups due to CSU’s current injury issues. Teams like Youngstown State have the ability to throw multiple effective bigs at Enaruna. While those bodies are fresh, Enaruna is forced to battle down low for rebounds for roughly thirty minutes per night. This would wear on any college player, and the Vikings will need to do a better job of team rebounding than they did against the Penguins, as YSU won the rebounding battle 43-30.

One bright spot for the Vikings against YSU was the production off the bench from Jalin Rice. Rice scored ten points and grabbed three rebounds, while connecting on his first three pointer of his Cleveland State career. Rice’s recent contributions were enough to garner a starting spot in Cleveland State’s next game, a Saturday affair with Detroit Mercy.

While the Vikings were able to even up their conference record with a 69-58 home victory over Detroit Mercy, they did not come away unscathed as the injury bug reared its ugly head once again. In his first start of the season, junior college transfer Jalin Rice suffered what appeared to be a shoulder injury just minutes into the game. Rice was becoming an integral member of the Vikings attack at both ends, as his tenacity defensively was matched by his vision and scoring punch in recent games. In addition to Rice, sophomore Ramar Pryor played just six minutes after landing awkwardly on his knee following a layup.

It was next man up for the Vikings on Saturday afternoon, as Chase Robinson entered the starting lineup. Robinson responded with an effective ten points and four huge steals, in a game where both teams struggled mightily from the floor. The game was won at the free throw line, as CSU converted on 24 of their 32 attempts for the game. Dylan Arnett, who came into the game a sub 60% free throw shooter on the year, nailed all seven of his attempts to significantly help Cleveland State’s percentage.

CSU’s bench was stellar on Saturday afternoon, as the unit scored 29 of the team’s 69 points. In addition to Robinson, who played starter’s minutes due to the losses of Rice and Pryor, Tevin Smith and Jayson Woodrich provided some key three pointers as the pair combined for 4-5 from behind the arc. In a game where points were hard to come by, these moments were pivotal in what ended up as Cleveland State’s first Horizon League Victory of the season.

While the statuses of KJ DeBrick, Jalin Rice, and Ramar Pryor are unknown for now heading into the remainder of the non conference portion of the schedule, the Vikings will now turn their attention to Saint Mary’s on Tuesday night, in what could prove to be CSU’s toughest test of the season. Tip-off is scheduled for 10pm eastern on Tuesday night.

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