College Basketball, CSU Vikings

Cleveland State makes baby steps, falls to Kent State at The Q

Cleveland State’s finest passing game of the season was rendered moot by efficient play inside from Kent State’s front line, as the Vikings (2-6) fell to the Golden Flashes (4-2) Saturday afternoon, 66-62, at Quicken Loans Arena.

Guards Andre Yates and Rob Edwards each scored 14 points to lead CSU, while forward Vinny Zollo finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds to record his first career double-double. Kent State’s forward tandem of Khaliq Spicer and Jimmy Hall combined for 36 points and 17 rebounds to set the pace in the victory. Spicer scored 22 points, doubling his previous career high, while Hall added nine rebounds and six assists in a fine all-around performance. Kent State scored 40 of their 66 points in the paint.

A Jimmy Hall layup gave Kent State a 64-59 lead with 1:40 to play. Viking freshman Jibri Blount was fouled on the ensuing possession. He made the first free throw to cut the lead to four but missed the second. Vinny Zollo grabbed the offensive rebound, but a missed three by Andre Yates put the Vikings firmly behind the eight-ball with 1:06 remaining.

Cleveland State got a stop on the next possession. Rob Edwards steamed ahead in transition and laid it up and in, but was whistled for an offensive foul with 28 seconds to play — it was one of at least five charges drawn by Kent State on the night. CSU stayed alive by stealing two inbounds passes in the game’s waning moments, but they couldn’t conjure the basket necessary to pull out the victory. They missed six straight shots, including some tip-in chances, in the final minute.

It was the Vikings’ best chance at a win during what is now a four-game losing streak. They hung tough before losing by 17 at Maryland, while both Toledo and South Dakota State beat them comfortably. CSU led Kent State for nearly 23 minutes and for much of the game played well enough to win. That fact was not lost on Gary Waters, who addressed his team for roughly 45 minutes — the average postgame talk is closer to 10 minutes — in a locker room at The Q.

From the News-Herald‘s David Glasier:

The aim of his extended postgame lecture, Waters explained, was to get senior forward Vinny Zollo, freshman guard Rob Edwards and the other CSU players to “feel this thing” before immersing themselves in preparation for exams.

As for what he wanted his players to feel, Waters said it was the implications of allowing a golden opportunity to slip through their fingers.

“We should have won this game. We had the opportunity to win it,” Waters said.

Indeed, Cleveland State led for over 17 minutes of the first half. They jumped out to a 6-0 lead and played sound offense for much of the period. They assisted on 9 of their first 11 first-half baskets, and drew foul shots thanks to more good passing than that. Andre Yates sank 3-of-4 three-pointers to score 9 points, with Edwards adding 8. Kent State took a 28-27 lead through a Jimmy Hall jumper with 29 seconds to go in the half, and went into the intermission with that same advantage.

It was just another loss, but CSU played loads better against Kent State than they did Toledo

Kent State alternated between man-to-man and zone defense early on, with neither proving particularly effective. The book on Cleveland State will favor playing a zone and forcing them to shoot over the top. The Vikings have yet to show consistency in shooting from the outside, but they fared well against the Flashes’ 2-3/3-2 hybrid defense thanks in large part to nifty interior passing from Vinny Zollo and Demonte Flannigan. Flannigan made some smart kick-out passes from the post, while Zollo did well making plays out of pick-and-rolls. The forwards each had four assists to lead CSU.

The game turned in the second half when Kent State went to a 1-3-1 zone. The Golden Flashes crowded the center of the floor, especially around the free throw line where Zollo and Flannigan did their early work. Kent State went on a 13-1 run over the course of four-plus minutes to turn a 45-41 deficit into a 54-46 lead with seven minutes to go. All of the Flashes’ points during that stretch came on layups, dunks, threes, and free throws. Cleveland State had three turnovers and missed their only two field goal attempts during that time.

A jumper from junior guard Myles Hamilton — playing in his first game of the season after dealing with suspension and injury — got the Vikings to within three points, at 60-57 with 2:55 to play. They couldn’t muster a stop, which was the story of the second half. From the 14:58 mark to 8:10, Kent State made 8-of-9 shots. Cleveland State hung with them at the start of that stretch, but the Flashes’ move to the 1-3-1 defense undid the Viking offense.

It was just another loss, but CSU played loads better against Kent State than they did Toledo. There were some rickety moments, but on the whole the ball moved with more purpose, as did the players. Their timing seemed better, and they put more pressure on their defenders. Often Cleveland State went to four- or five-out sets designed to open space inside. If a shot or drive wasn’t there, they made a pass and kept it moving. The ball went into the post not just to score, but to set up kick-out opportunities as well.

It wasn’t all good. More than a couple ill-advised shots resulted in airballs. Kent State beat them to the spot time and again to draw charges. At least a couple times the Flashes beat the Vikings down the court for transition layups — even after made baskets. There were defensive lapses overall, as evidenced by Kent State shooting 56 percent in the second half.

It isn’t the sort of thing one puts on a marquee to sell tickets, but these are the growing pains indicative of an inexperienced team.

Other Notes

  • The Q was done up nicely for Cleveland State. It felt like a proper home game. The CSU court was laid down in place of the Cavs version, Viking green was all over the Humongotron and other video boards, and arena hype man MJ the DJ was doing his thing. It made for a fun atmosphere on a Saturday afternoon.
  • Checking in on the CSU freshmen: guard Rob Edwards looks to have a starting spot locked down; he totaled 14 points and 4 rebounds in 34 minutes…forward Jibri Blount played just nine minutes, but scored nine points in that time…forward Jeron Rogers struggled, going scoreless in eight minutes…guard Daniel Levitt scored three points in five minutes…both Blount and Rogers have been playing power forward-type roles, often matching up against larger opponents.
  • Andre Yates’ three-point shooting performance (4-of-7) was his best in weeks. He was 2-for-10 in the previous four games combined.
  • Edwards and Yates are leading the team in minutes played, followed by swingman Terrell Hales and forwards Flannigan and Zollo. There is plenty of competition beyond those five, especially with Myles Hamilton’s return.

Cleveland State’s next game is Saturday, Dec. 12 at 1 p.m. against the Ohio Bobcats at Quicken Loans Arena.