College Basketball, CSU Vikings

Cleveland State’s spirited comeback falls short as Vikings lose fourth straight

The Cleveland State Vikings made a nine-foot climb out of a 10-foot pit, as their frantic second-half comeback fell short against the Milwaukee Panthers Saturday afternoon at the Wolstein Center. The 65-62 loss is Cleveland State’s fourth in a row, all in Horizon League play. The defeat dropped CSU to 5-12 on the season (0-4 Horizon League), while Milwaukee improved to 12-5 (3-1 HL).

The Vikings had a chance in the closing seconds. After Milwaukee’s JayQuan McCloud missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Cleveland State advanced the ball to the frontcourt and called timeout with with 8.0 seconds remaining. Trailing 65-62, CSU inbounded on the sideline in front of their own bench. The entry pass went to Andre Yates, who drove from the left wing. As he pivoted and looked to kick it outside, the ball was slapped out of his hands. Milwaukee recovered, time expired, and the Vikings dropped their second home game in three days.

[Related: Bullet points on the struggling CSU Vikings]

CSU head coach Gary Waters said the final out-of-bounds play was designed to get freshman guard Rob Edwards coming off a double screen. Milwaukee switched on the pick, and Yates lost the ball before he was able to find another option.

“Andre was supposed to drive down to the baseline, with two guys screening for Rob [Edwards] coming off,” Waters said. “[Milwaukee] switched it, which was okay. We had set Tim [Hasbargen] in the corner and we had set Vinny [Zollo] up top.”

Cleveland State turned up the pressure in the game’s last minute. Leading 63-60 with 32.3 seconds left, the Panthers were forced to call two timeouts in a row in their own backcourt. The first came when Jordan Johnson was trapped in the corner. The second came immediately after to avoid a five-second call on the ensuing inbounds pass. They finally got the ball across halfcourt, but promptly turned it over when CSU’s Terrell Hales deflected a pass. As Hales corralled the ball near the sideline and looked to go ahead in transition, his foot (apparently) went juuuust out of bounds, giving the ball back to Milwaukee.

Just making a ballgame out of it represented progress for a team that had given up 86-plus points in three straight contests

Those two plays — Yates losing the ball and Hales stepping on the line — were two that the Cleveland State couldn’t afford. Still, just making a ballgame out of it represented progress for a team that had given up 86-plus points in three straight contests.

“I thought our guys came out and competed today,” Waters said. “We easily could have folded with how well [Milwaukee] shot it.”

The Vikings trailed Milwaukee at halftime, 39-27, and trailed by as many as 18 points. The Panthers shot 56 percent in the first half, including 9-of-15 three-pointers. Cleveland State’s defense was out of sorts, and the visitors gladly reaped the benefits. Too many possessions were marked by Vikings wearing the expressions of lost travelers. Milwaukee was able to break their press with ease, and then to turn simple pick-and-roll actions into wide-open threes. When CSU was matched up properly, they made a bad habit of reaching, leaping, and lurching, taking themselves out of position in the process.

“That team was en route to about 90 [points] in the beginning,” said Waters.

Milwaukee’s starting forwards, J.J. Panoske and Matt Tiby, stepped behind the line to hit 5-of-11 threes. Forward Demonte Flannigan said that they presented a different challenge than do traditional, paint-residing frontcourts.

“They have bigs that can shoot,” Flannigan said. “We trap a lot, so it gives them a chance to shoot the ball if we’re blitzing [on-ball screens] and our man is trying to get back off the screen. That was a bit difficult.”

Cleveland State cleaned up the defense in the latter part of the second half. They did a better job of running Milwaukee off the three-point line and then rotating to prevent wide-open shots. It still wasn’t a lockdown effort — the Panthers shot 53 percent in the second half — but it was a significant improvement over the first 20 minutes. Milwaukee made 3-of-10 from downtown after halftime. Slowing down their long-range attack was an integral part of CSU’s comeback; they finished the game on a 27-12 run.

Forcing turnovers helped the Vikings climb back into the game as well. After committing exactly zero giveaways in the first half, Milwaukee had five in the second, which led to eight Cleveland State points. Milwaukee passed well for much of the afternoon, but was goaded into clumsier play and more mistakes as CSU focused more on taking away the deep ball. Panthers forward Matt Tiby alone committed three, including his team’s first (a traveling violation with 13:14 left in the game).

On the offensive end, Cleveland State was led by Andre Yates, Rob Edwards, and Demonte Flannigan. Yates, who turned 22 years old on Friday, scored a game-high 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Edwards, the standout freshman, scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half, including four free throws in the final minute. Flannigan had a double-double, with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

A loss is a loss is a loss, but this one suggests some degree of progress from the Vikings. After opening conference play with four defeats, the schedule now takes Cleveland State on the road. They visit Wright State next Thursday and Horizon League newcomer Northern Kentucky next Saturday.

Other notes…

  • Andre Yates landed awkwardly on his right ankle after converting a layup midway through the second half. He stayed in the game but was clearly favoring it. It sounds as though he just rolled it and won’t miss any time.
  • Gary Waters said that freshman guard Daniel Levitt is expected to miss the remainder of the season with a right knee injury suffered in CSU’s loss at Oakland on January 2. Levitt averaged 4.5 points in 14 games and looked to be developing into a dangerous shooter.
  • Gary Waters did not have any further comment on Myles Hamilton’s dismissal from the team. He said it was simply a “team rules issue and it just didn’t work out.”
  • Highlights of the game are available on CSU’s website.