College Basketball, CSU Vikings

Cleveland State tops Belmont on Demonte Flannigan hook shot in closing seconds

Well before the ball went up for Cleveland State’s Saturday afternoon game against the Belmont Bruins at the Wolstein Center, the Vikings looked to have a newfound enthusiasm about them. Coming off a sloppy but nonetheless valuable win over Loyola (Chicago), there was a bounce in CSU’s collective step. Junior guard Myles Hamilton led the charge, talking up his teammates during warmups and in the pregame huddle. The Vikes carried that energy into the game, and a Demonte Flannigan basket with 1.8 seconds left gave CSU a 67-65 win to improve their record to 4-7.

“I have a concept I tell [the team] all the time.” CSU head coach Gary Waters said after the game, “You don’t have to lose to learn. A lot of people come with the concept — ‘we lost so we can learn from it’ — but I’m not a believer in that. I think you can still win and still learn. Today was one of those games.”

After leading for nearly 36 minutes of game time, the Vikings trailed the Bruins (now 7-6) with 49 seconds to play. Two free throws from forward Mack Mercer put Belmont ahead, 65-63. Cleveland State threw the ball inside to Demonte Flannigan on the ensuing possession, and a strong right hook tied the game with 35.8 seconds left. Belmont responded in kind, finding Mercer on the left block. With the shot clock ticking down he turned baseline and put up a left hook over Flannigan — airball. Cleveland State corralled the rebound and called timeout with 4.3 seconds left.

Terrell Hales inbounded from the frontcourt sideline to Andre Yates, who quickly entered the ball to Flannigan on the left block. The 6-7 junior dribbled middle, drop stepped baseline, and put a left hook up and in off the window. The bucket gave CSU a 67-65 advantage with just 1.8 remaining. Belmont called timeout in hopes of drawing up a last-second miracle, but their full-court touchdown pass went begging. The buzzer sounded, and the Vikings held on for their second win in as many games.

“That’s what we drew up in the huddle and on my mind was just finishing strong, getting the bucket,” said Flannigan of the deciding play. “I just wanted to win. You’ve seen how our record is. We need to start winning and get that to where it’s supposed to be.”

“I just wanted to win. You’ve seen how our record is”
– Demonte Flannigan

Cleveland State led almost all the way, but the win didn’t come easy. Belmont took its first lead of the game when two Mercer free throws capped a furious 19-4 run that spanned eight-plus minutes. Mercer alone scored nine points during the run, and eight of Belmont’s points came from the charity stripe. Cleveland State committed its tenth team foul midway through the second half, which emboldened the Bruins to go inside, attack the hoop, and crash the boards. Of Belmont’s 34 second-half points, 18 came in the paint and 13 more came from the free throw line. An Amanze Egekeze three to tie the game at 61 with 3:31 left represented Belmont’s only output from outside the lane.

Cleveland State was able to stop the bleeding and fight back, thanks in part to the teamwide gusto. “We’re a close team. We feed off each other,” Flannigan said. “When we see our brothers on the bench yelling and screaming for us, that gives us energy. If we’re tired or something, it takes away all of that. We’re just ready to play for each other.”

The battle between Flannigan and Mercer inside came to define the game. Flannigan finished with 16 points (8-of-14 shooting), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks, while Mercer totaled 20 points (7-of-18 shooting) and 10 rebounds. The 6-9 Mercer exploited his height advantage over Flannigan, and Belmont did well to hit him with lobs over the top when he was fronted in the post. Mercer scored 15 of his 20 points (and grabbed 8 of his 10 rebounds) in the second half, making five shots and five free throws. After playing just eight minutes in the first half, he played 14 in the second. Overall, the Bruins grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and scored 18 second-chance points.

“The issue that we gotta resolve is post defense,” Waters said. “People are going right at us. They’re licking their lips, and we can’t let that happen.” Belmont’s bigs aren’t behemoths, but they had enough size and bulk to establish good position inside.

While Flannigan struggled to contend with Mercer’s size, he came through for CSU when it counted. The Richmond Heights product scored the Vikings’ last eight points down the stretch and provided a vital go-to option when the offense bogged down. A jumper, a tip-in, and those final hook shots were enough to put Cleveland State over the top.

Flannigan provided a vital go-to option when the offense bogged down

It is important to note that Mack Mercer is not Belmont’s primary scoring option; he came into Saturday averaging just 13.2 minutes per game. Belmont coach Rick Byrd turned to Mercer in part because his top offensive players, Evan Bradds and Craig Bradshaw, struggled. Bradds, a 6-7 junior forward, came into the game averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds on a whopping 73 percent shooting. Bradshaw, a 6-3 senior, came in averaging over 16 points and shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc. Demonte Flannigan did well defending Bradds, while sophomore swingman Terrell Hales hounded Bradshaw. The B&B tandem finished with just 11 points on 2-of-11 shooting against Cleveland State.

“I thought that was the game right there,” Waters said of limiting Bradshaw and Bradds’ output.

In the first half, Cleveland State beat Belmont at its own brand of up-and-down basketball. The Bruins average 76 possessions per game, among the fastest paces in college hoops. The Vikings average 66 possessions per game, ranking them No. 337 out of 351 Division I teams. Belmont has scored 80-plus points nine times, 90-plus four times, and even topped 100 points once. Saturday’s 67 points tied CSU’s season high.

The fast pace suited the Vikes just fine, at least for a half. They led 40-31 at the break, their first 40-point half of the season. They shot 52 percent from the field and made half of their eight three-pointers. Guards Rob Edwards and Tim Hasbargen — the former a freshman starter, the latter a walk-on sophomore — each scored 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting. Demonte Flannigan scored eight points, with Jibri Blount and Andre Yates each scoring four.

CSU head coach Gary Waters said, however, that he didn’t want to get into a track meet with the Bruins. “We had told our team going into the game that we wanted to keep it in the 60s. I told them, if we keep them in the 60s, they can’t beat us. If we get into the 70s or 80s, we’re in trouble. Until the last moments we had it in the 50s, and [Belmont was] struggling because they couldn’t get the shots they wanted.”

It was a good win. The young Vikings panicked a bit down the stretch but maintained their composure enough to come out on top.

The scene on the floor after the Wolstein Center had emptied out was much like that before tipoff. Myles Hamilton was among several Vikings shooting around and cracking jokes. Some players were still in their uniforms while others had already changed. It was as though they didn’t want to let go of that winning feeling just yet. With two straight victories under the belts, the 2015-16 Vikes have a reason to smile.

Other notes:

  • Junior guard Andre Yates had another solid game, finishing with 11 points and 5 rebounds. With Rob Edwards occasionally getting into foul trouble and the other guards not quite being ready to run the show, Yates has brought stability to the backcourt.
  • Tim Hasbargen has done very well with the opportunities he’s received the past couple games. He scored 10 points in nine minutes against Belmont on 4-of-5 shooting. He knocked down two three-balls and made a smart cut to the rim for a layup. Gut gemacht, Tim!
  • Terrell Hales played 30 minutes, more than Waters would normally like, in large part because he defended Craig Bradshaw so well. Hales’ production doesn’t show itself on the stat sheet very often, but this was a strong game for him.
  • Vinny Zollo’s rough stretch continues. He shot 1-of-10 Saturday, missing all three triples along with a few point-blank bunnies. He doesn’t look to be shooting with any confidence. He has, however, averaged 8.8 rebounds over the last four games, and he had four assists against Belmont.

Cleveland State’s next game is at the Wolstein Center, Wednesday, December 23 at 1 p.m. vs. Bowling Green.