College Basketball, CSU Vikings

Cleveland State closes non-conference play with blowout win over Cedarville

Cleveland State opened non-conference play with a tough loss against Akron, the current MAC leader. They closed it with a blowout victory over Division II Cedarville, overcoming an early deficit and eventually coasting to a 77-37 final.

Freshman guard Rob Edwards led the Vikings with a career-high 21 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) and 9 rebounds. His former teammate at Detroit’s Cass Tech High School, sophomore guard Kenny Carpenter, scored a season-high 14 on 5-of-6 shooting and dished out 9 assists. Freshman guard Daniel Levitt added 11 points, and freshman forward Jibri Blount 10.

It wasn’t, however, a wire-to-wire cakewalk. The Yellow Jackets (5-8) won the first three minutes of their matchup with the Vikings (also 5-8), jumping out to a 13-3 lead. Three layups, two triples, and one free throw accounted for the early Cedarville scoring. Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters called timeout and gave his team a talking to — there was plenty of hollering from the CSU bench throughout the first half — and that seemed to do the trick. Cleveland State won the next 37 minutes by a cool 74-24 margin. In the end it was an easy win for a CSU team that was surely happy to have one.

“Today’s whole thing was about energy,” Waters said after the game. “If you didn’t bring energy, you were on the bench.”

Cleveland State bested Cedarville in literally every statistical category

The starters didn’t open the game with such energy, and that resulted in some early calls to the reserves. The Vikings came out as though they’d been gifted the game over Christmas weekend. They weren’t quite lazy, but perhaps scatterbrained. There was a vague sense that, by virtue of their smaller-division status, Cedarville would cede the ballgame to the hosts. The Yellow Jackets weren’t having any of that — Kenny Carpenter said that Cedarville “kinda punched [CSU] in the mouth” — and the Vikings had to fight their way back into it.

They did so through an unfamiliar means: the three-point shot. Gary Waters has long been averse to the deep ball, preferring to attack the rim or post up. On this night he seemed to make an exception, as the Vikings hoisted a whopping 30 triples, which Waters compared it to the Cavs putting up 41 threes in their Monday night win over the Suns. The tactic worked early and often. CSU sank 9-of-15 first-half threes, led by Edwards and Carpenter going 6-of-6 combined. The Vikes cooled off in the second half, finishing 12-of-30 from beyond the arc. Daniel Levitt did a terrific J.R. Smith impression, going 3-of-10.

A Carpenter three midway through the first half put the Vikes up, 20-17, and they would build on that lead in a hurry. They closed the first on a 23-9 run, hitting six threes in the process.

The knockout blow came shortly after halftime. After J.C. Faubion put in a layup for Cedarville, Cleveland State ripped off an 11-0 run in less than three minutes to go up, 54-28. Junior forward Demonte Flannigan led the charge with perhaps his best sequence of the season. He started the scoring with a strong spinning post move that ended in a short jumper. On the next possession, Andre Yates came away with a steal and fed Flannigan for a transition dunk. Then Flannigan blocked a shot on the other end, hustled downcourt, and finished a bunny off a pass from Vinny Zollo. Edwards scored five straight after the timeout to drive the point home.

It was a comprehensive win for Cleveland State. They bested Cedarville in literally every statistical category. The Vikings had more (deep breath) rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, fast break points, points in the paint, bench points, and second chance points. They shot better from every area and committed fewer turnovers. All of this comes with the asterisk that it was a Division II team, but a win is always better than a loss, regardless of punctuation.

The Vikings now turn their attention to the Horizon League. They open conference play with four of the league’s better teams, playing at 8-4 Oakland and at 6-5 Detroit before hosting 7-5 Green Bay and 9-4 Milwaukee. Their first, at Oakland, is this Saturday, January 2.

“Oooh man, that’s tough coming up,” said Gary Waters. “We’re playing the top four teams in the first four games…This is going to be a really tough stretch for us. We just gotta work at it and grow from this. The key is you got everything to gain; you don’t have a whole lot to lose here.

“If we keep pushing it, I think positive things can happen here.”

Other Notes:

  • While just a freshman, Rob Edwards is taking on more of a leadership role. He said that Waters looks to him to be one of the leading scorers, and he is gradually becoming more talkative and assertive on the court. If he sticks around, he could really turn into something.
  • Daniel Levitt has the green light from deep. Said Waters: “The one thing that Daniel’s gonna do is shoot threes.” He has a good stroke, and CSU will need it, as several opponents — including Cedarville — have gone to a zone defense against them.
  • Freshman Jeron Rogers looks to be Cleveland State’s resident funnyman. During warmups, on the bench, and even while playing he seems to have a perma-grin and/or be laughing at something. He’s some combination of Hines Ward and a baseball player who hotfoots his teammates.
  • When they tear down the Wolstein Center, the last thing to be removed will be faint echoes of Gary Waters yelling “VINNY!” at senior forward Vinny Zollo. Something about that name just lends itself to hollerin’.