The following has happened to me; maybe it’s happened to you, too: You have plans. Maybe you’re going out to dinner, having a power lunch, meeting friends for a drink, or running a big day of errands. Whatever it is, you have things you intend to get done. You get dressed, you gather your things, and you step out with purpose, ready to go. You get in your car. You turn the key.
There’s no gas in the tank.
To simplify a 40-minute athletic event featuring over a dozen participants, that is what happened to the Cleveland State Vikings (3-4) as they lost to the Toledo Rockets (3-4), 59-54, on Wednesday night. The Vikes were playing at home against an in-state opponent, and coming off of a road win, but they just didn’t have the juice.
A flurry of late Viking baskets made the final scoreline respectable, but Toledo was in control from the tip. The Rockets had leads of 18-8, 28-15, 36-18, and 44-26, and made the necessary free throws to finish the job.
Whereas CSU was lax, Toledo was lively. The Rockets packed their own energy. They were chatty on defense. They swarmed Viking ballhandlers and turned driving lanes into muddy paths navigable only via four-wheel drive. They governed the glass to the tune of 14 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points. Their bench was the loudest section of the Wolstein Center for much of the night.
Continuing a trend that is officially worrisome, Anton Grady picked up two early fouls. He had seven points and five rebounds in 15 minutes. The junior big man’s hacky ways are taking him out of games, neutering the Vikings’ interior attack.
Head coach Gary Waters was quick to address Grady’s affinity for fouling postgame:
“Anton can’t just be playing 15 minutes a game. That’s killing us. Every time that happens, that kills us. We gotta keep him on the floor so we have a middle presence.”
Without Grady, CSU was devoid of that foundation upon which its offense can stand. CSU dribbled and passed and screened and all that, but the moves lacked urgency and intent.
Before each game, Waters leaves his team with a word to focus on, a theme to guide the evening’s action. Wednesday’s word was purpose. Waters was displeased with his team’s lack of purpose on offense:
“We moved the ball, and we ran through offensive sets, but there was nothing to it. We were doing it just to go through the motions.”
Too often, those motions were far from the hoop. The Vikings are no sniper regiment, yet they launched 28 threes Wednesday. They earned only four free throws. They shot 6-of-29 in the first half, good for 15 whole points. Box scores don’t always tell the tale, but this one comes close.
Cleveland State is at its best when it can press, trap, and harass opponents into mistakes. But for that to happen, the Vikes need to buy, find, steal, trade for, or otherwise acquire a basket every now and then. I don’t want to say they shot badly against Toledo, but I was drawn to a career in masonry during the game.
The good news, as Waters pointed out, is that you don’t win any championships in December. Cleveland State is defending well enough to win, even when they look hell-bent on shattering the backboard with bricky jumpers. The conference schedule is still a month away.
It’s a long road ahead. They have time to get it together. They would be wise to start by ensuring they come to the gym with more gas in the tank.
CSU’s next game is at home, Sunday afternoon against Western Illinois.