While we were all basking in the glory of an Ohio State NCAA Tournament blowout weekend at the Q, the Cleveland State Vikings were taking the floor a short distance away at the Wolstein Center for the second round of the NIT. The opponent was the College of Charleston, coached by former Georgia Tech legend Bobby Cremins. Two more wins would put CSU into the semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York and a huge opportunity for the Viking program.
All year long, CSU has done it with their pressure defense. They play this way because their best quality is their quickness. What they didn’t have was size and depth. If I’d have told Head Coach Gary Waters that his team would have won the battle of the boards 37-25 and his bench would outscore its opponents 8-3, he’d have said “where do I sign up.” Even Center Aaron Pogue, the king of all foul trouble, only committed two and scored 13 points while snagging 14 boards.
So how exactly did Cleveland State’s season end with a 64-56 home loss? The answer is simple and shocking. The Vikings shot 1-25 from three point land.
No, that’s not a misprint. I’ll say it again. The Vikings shot 1-25 from three point land. Its the single worst three point performance in CSU history. “I never had a team shoot 1-for-25,” said Waters. “Never.”
Cremins was equally as stunned by the Vikings three point futility. “I would like to say it was our defense, but I couldn’t say that truthfully,” Cremins said. “They couldn’t make shots.”
It was a sad end of the season for Cleveland State and a tough way for all-everything PG Norris Cole to end his brilliant career. He finished with 18 points and seven assists, but he shot just 6-22 from the floor, missing all eight of his triple attempts. Cole deserved better than to finish out his career with a loss and one of his worst shooting performances in ages.
Cole leaves Cleveland State as the school third all-time leading scorer. His jersey should be retired next to Ken “Mouse” McFadden and Franklin Edwards. As great as the previously mentioned two players were, nobody gave more on the floor to the CSU program than Norris. Waters knew that he’d have to ride his horse all season for them to succeed and Cole responded. He averaged over 35 minutes a night and at 6-2, led the team in points, assists, rebounds, and steals. Pretty amazing stuff.
Will we see him at the next level? His coach certainly thinks so.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever recruited in regards to the total package. Not just the basketball player he is, but also his leadership,” Waters said. The scouts love his toughness and the fact that he can do it all. This season Cole truly grew into the Point Guard role, and that has only enhanced his NBA stock. Draft Express lists him as their 66th best prospect, while NBADraft.net has him as the second pick (#32) in the second round in their 2011 Mock Draft.
There is plenty of junk in the NBA and there is no doubt in my mind that Cole can play right away in the league. Its just such a shame his career and CSU’s season ended the way it did. Waters reflected afterwards.
“This has been a great year, and regardless what occurred out there today,” said Waters. “You win 27 games, you don’t have a bench, and you have to rely on your 3-point shooters. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that was a good job. And not by me, by the team. This group was a pretty special group.”
Next year the Vikings bring back four starters – Guards Jeremy Montgomery and Tre Harmon, Pogue, and forward Tim Kamczyc – as well as redshirt D’Aundrey Brown, a two-year starter who missed the season with a finger injury. Brown was the team’s best defender and will be entering his fifth year in the program. Charlie Woods and Josh McCoy, the Vikings top two reserves also return, plus a class of five coming in that includes four star Combo Forward Anton Grady from Cleveland Central Catholic.
As long as Waters as the captain of the Vikings ship, the program will be near the top of the Horizon League.