Admit it. You were getting pretty nervous on Saturday when Horizon League upstart Northern Kentucky, fresh off a win against Youngstown State, had a lead over Cleveland State. And all of those bad feelings, which you’ve probably been carrying for most of the season, started welling up.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the tanking of the season. The Vikings finally did what they do best: clamp down on defense and stop the Norse’s hot shooting in its tracks. Add in 18 points from Kenny Carpenter, a resurgent Demonte Flannigan in the second half and the emergence of yet another walk-on, freshman guard Nelson Maxwell, and Cleveland State netted its first conference win, 70-65.
The Vikings weren’t done there, though. On Monday, they faced off against Illinois-Chicago, which is still clearly acclimating to its new head coach, Steve McClain. The Flames, who haven’t beaten a Division I opponent this season, have been outmatched for the bulk of their Horizon League contests, still could have caused major problems for Cleveland State.
However, that threat never materialized at all, as the Vikings kept UIC, particularly its freshman star Dikembe Dixson, in check for the entire game. On the other side of the ball, the other top freshman in the conference, CSU’s Rob Edwards, got back into the groove after experiencing some shooting problems as of late. His 22 points would, in the end, pace the Vikings to an easy 70-53 win.
Realistically, the last two games were against the two of the teams at the bottom of the conference standings. But when you’re a team struggling to put it all together, as Cleveland State obviously has been all season, games like these turn into must-wins.
And there’s no guarantee that the return match-ups will be wins, either. That is especially try in the case of NKU, who bounced back from its loss to the Vikings in a big way by knocking off Oakland at the O’Rena, 90-73.
In the meantime, the Vikings have one more opponent to contend with before facing the Herculean task of playing Horizon League leader Valparaiso. However, like Northern Kentucky and Illinois-Chicago, their next foe is legitimately winnable.
Youngstown State comes to town on Sunday as the third of five games being played at Quicken Loans Arena. And after surprise wins against Oakland and Green Bay, the Penguins have reverted to their historically bad ways.
How bad? YSU followed up its 20-point loss to the Norse with an 81-45 against Wright State and a 96-65 shellacking at the hands of Valpo. Aside from Penguin sophomore Cameron Morse, the rest of the team has been decidedly muted during this slide. And any hope that senior Bobby Hain will come back to fix this is becoming less and less likely.
If things go as planned, Cleveland State could be at 3-5 in the conference heading into the Valparaiso game. But with any post-season chances looking non-existent, there only hope the fans have to cling on to is that their young team surprises one of the top contenders and have a little bit to look forward to for next year.
Wasn’t the Quicken Loans Arena Deal Supposed to Prevent This?
The most notable item to come out of CSU’s win UIC, aside from the relative ease in which victory came, was the overall attendance figures. Only 1,129 people came out on a snowy evening to see the win. That said, the weather was clearly not the only reason for the sparse attendance.
Down the street at the Q, the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted the Golden State Warriors in a re-match of last year’s NBA Finals. And while the Cavs laid a major egg against the Warriors that night, there was no way that basketball fans were avert their attention down the street to the Wolstein Center.
If you’re confused about the scheduling of Cleveland State and Cavaliers home games at the same time, you’re probably not alone. After all, the Cavs and Quicken Loans Arena have a deal with CSU that, aside from the Vikings games played at the Q, includes managing event sales and marketing at the Wolstein Center.
Also, the deal was designed so both arenas would be presented to promoters as non-competitive venues, as was outlined in the original press release. Clearly there was a mix-up in the agreement on Monday.
Then again, since Cleveland State’s game against UIC was set up by the Horizon League, this conflict may very well be on the conference itself. After all, the CSU-Quicken Loans Arena deal was announced a week before the conference schedule was released.
While the Horizon League is ultimately in control of that part of the schedule, the start times can be up for debate. Monday’s contest wasn’t the first time the Vikings and the Cavs played on the same day at home, and it won’t be the last. However, tip-off times had been staggered, as was the case for the December 23rd day game between CSU and Bowling Green.
Arguably, because the Illinois-Chicago contest was slated for a federal holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), there may have been some discussion about making this game a day game. Obviously, that isn’t what happened here.
With the full partnership in place now, you’d like to hope that this conflict was a fluke and future such conflicts could be avoided in the future. And they should, because as we all know, when Cleveland State goes up against the Cavs, it loses every single time.