College Basketball, CSU Vikings

Cleveland State outslugs Loyola, Gary Waters gets 350th career win

The Cleveland State Vikings beat the Loyola (Illinois) Ramblers, 60-54, Wednesday night in a tremendous argument in favor of professional basketball’s superiority to the college game. There are those who hold collegiate basketball in the highest of esteem, those who delight in the longer shot clock, the myriad zone defenses, and the idea that there is a purity to the game at the university level. That’s all well and good, and I don’t presume to change anyone’s mind on the subject. I’m just saying that every once in a while you run into a bad college basketball game, and this was one of them.

I’m being a little harsh. Things got interesting down the stretch and the level of play took baby steps forward as the game went on. Things were tight most of the way at the Joseph J. Gentile Center in Chicago. Loyola led by as much as seven, but German walk-on Tim Hasbargen hit a three to give Cleveland State a 44-42 lead with 5:09 to go. They would not relinquish that advantage. A Milton Doyle and-one pulled the Ramblers level at 47 with 3:06 left, and the result was very much in doubt heading into the last few minutes.

Cleveland State got some precious breathing room when freshman Daniel Levitt buried a deep right-wing three to put them ahead 52-47 with 2:12 remaining. (More on Levitt later.) Tyson Smith split a pair of free throws on Loyola’s next possession, and Andre Yates hit a jumper to put the Vikings up six with a minute and a half left. An Earl Peterson jumper got the Ramblers within four, but that’s as close as they would get. Hasbargen and Yates each sank two free throws in the final minute to secure the Vikings’ first road win of the season — and the 350th of Gary Waters’ career.

Still, it was far from pretty, especially in the first half.

It was far from pretty, especially in the first half

The Ramblers led the Vikings 24-23 at the intermission, with the teams combining to shoot 31 percent. There were 15 first-half field goals and 17 first-half turnovers. All three of Cleveland State’s starting guards — Rob Edwards, Andre Yates, and Terrell Hales — picked up two fouls early, forcing Gary Waters to go to his bench and taking the most threatening playmakers (Edwards and Yates) off the floor. The bench eventually came through to the tune of 32 points, it just took a while to get there.

Loyola doubled Demonte Flannigan, Jibri Blount, and any other Viking who caught the ball on the block almost immediately. The Ramblers are not a big team — they have just two players taller than 6-7 — which put Cleveland State in the rare situation of not being outsized and overpowered. Flannigan did well with the few chances he had to go one-on-one, but those opportunities were rare; he totaled 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Blount shot just 2-of-7, but he sank 7-of-8 free throws to finish with a solid line of 11 points and 7 rebounds. He flashed a nice face-up game and used a quick, long first step to beat defenders into the lane.

Still, with the lane full of defenders and the starting backcourt coping with foul trouble for stretches, Cleveland State struggled mightily to get open looks for much of the game. The good news is that their defense put Loyola in a similar predicament. The Vikings had perhaps their best pressing game of the season, forcing turnovers and generally knocking the Ramblers out of sorts. They had nine steals on the night and forced 16 total turnovers, which they turned into 15 points. They defended the rim as well, blocking six shots (all in the first half).

The biggest takeaway from this game was the shooting of Daniel Levitt. The 6-1 Montreal native, who came to Cleveland State via New Hampton (NH) Prep, scored 12 points on 4-of-6 three-pointers. He has had some good games shooting from deep — he hit 2-of-3 against Akron and 2-of-5 against Rider — and he was locked in Wednesday. The last, most important three was a catch-and-shoot job that came from a few feet beyond the arc with the shot clock winding down. A miss would have given the ball back to Loyola with a chance to tie. Instead, it all but ended the game. The Vikings have long yearned for a capable floor spacer, and a showing like this offers hope that Levitt can be the one.

It wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing game, but even the ugliest W looks better than the most elegant L. The victory ends a five-game losing streak for CSU. Head coach Gary Waters is now 350-269 lifetime, with a 179-134 record at Cleveland State. The 350 wins put him among the top 175 winningest head coaches in men’s college basketball history. Only 677 more to catch Mike Krzyzewski!

Other Notes

  • I feel like I overlook him too often, but junior guard Andre Yates had another nice game. He finished with a team-high 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including two three-balls. He added three rebounds, two assists, and did not commit a turnover. On a night when Rob Edwards was limited to 18 minutes by foul trouble, Yates kept the Vikings afloat. Good work by the lefty from Dayton.
  • Calling the first half a rock fight would insult our nation’s geologists. Cleveland State had two separate stretches where they made 1-of-11 field goals, while Loyola went a full nine minutes between makes. No bueno baloncesto.
  • Vinny Zollo followed up a rough game against Ohio with another one Wednesday. He went scoreless in 22 minutes, shooting 0-of-5. The good news is that he grabbed eight rebounds, his second game in a row with that many.
  • Terrell Hales is primarily a defensive stopper, but one would like to see him get more involved on the offensive end. He has two points total in the last five games. He isn’t much of a shooter, but he should be able to get free on the break of come up with a putback every now and then.