All streaks and records in athletics are made to be broken, and unfortunately for the Cleveland State Vikings, that notion became reality as their eighteen game home winning streak came to an end on Thursday night at the hands of the Wright State Raiders. While the Vikings were able to upend Purdue Fort Wayne in a double digit second half comeback in the contest prior, the clock would strike midnight on the historic home streak.
It was their ability to lock up Purdue Fort Wayne defensively during Cleveland State’s second half surge, and their inability to consistently defend Wright State during the Raiders’ second half run that led a 1-1 split for the Vikings in their last two contests. The Vikings are indeed beginning to play with fire in the Horizon League standings as they currently sit at eighth, but only a half game ahead of Robert Morris for ninth.
The answers for Cleveland State are not as simple as the Vikings need to play harder. What has become an issue over the course of the year is not being able to sustain their level of expected effort over a full forty minutes. Extended lapses on the defensive end are becoming too common of a theme for a program that prides itself on constant ball pressure and an attacking mindset. While these lapses have been more noticeable on the road this year, a lackluster defensive effort in Thursday’s second half played a direct role in Cleveland State’s home winning streak coming to an end.
Additionally, the loss of KJ DeBrick seems to be weighing on an undersized Viking front court, as he was the lone big man to receive consistent minutes off the bench. While players such as Tevin Smith, Chase Robinson, and Jalin Rice have flourished in certain games as reserves, Cleveland State’s lack of size puts immense pressure on both Dylan Arnett and Tristan Enaruna to not only defend at an extremely high level, but play foul free basketball as Robinson’s bench is made up of all guards at this point in the season.
Up next for the Vikings, a home clash with Robert Morris on Sunday before hitting the road for three straight. While there still is one month to play in the regular season, Cleveland State has work to do to dig themselves out of eighth place in the Horizon League standings. What the Vikings should take solace in however is they are only one game in the win and loss column from fourth place in an ever so jumbled conference. In order to gain ground though, Cleveland State will need to exercise their road demons and maintain their standards defensively in some tricky environments.