College Basketball, CSU Vikings

Cleveland State outshot, outrebounded, overmatched by 18-4 Valparaiso

Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune

Early in the first half at the Athletics-Recreation Center (or ARC) in Valparaiso, Indiana Thursday night, Cleveland State sophomore Kenny Carpenter came away with a steal. He finished with a layup at the other end, giving the Vikings a two-point lead over the heavily favored, Horizon League-leading Valparaiso Crusaders. As the ball came through the net, you could almost hear Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore hollering, WE WILL NOT GO QUIETLY INTO THE NIGHT.

Problem was, that two-point lead was the only one Cleveland State had all night. It was just a 2-0 advantage, and it disappeared within about 40 seconds. Valparaiso scored the next eight points and went into halftime ahead, 36-23. The Vikings hung around early thanks to turnovers and poor free throw shooting on Valpo’s part, but it wouldn’t last. The discrepancies in size, strength, and shooting proved too much over the full 40 minutes. The Crusaders kept extending their lead and eventually won, 77-52.

The win improved their record to 18-4 on the season (8-1 Horizon League; look for them in the top 25 soon) while the Vikings fell to 7-15 (2-7 HL). Cleveland State was without junior guard Andre Yates due to a foot injury.1 Sophomore Kenny Carpenter started in his place, while senior forward Vinny Zollo was replaced in the starting lineup by freshman Jibri Blount.

In matters of both size and skill, Valparaiso was simply superior

In matters of both size and skill, Valparaiso was simply superior. The Crusaders battered the Vikings on the boards, winning the rebounding battle, 41-22. When Valpo did miss, they were as likely to get the rebound as Cleveland State — 16 offensive rebounds for the hosts and 17 defensive rebounds for the visitors. Valpo bested CSU in second-chance points by a 20-3 margin. 6-foot-10 center Vashil Fernandez bossed the paint, finishing with 8 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks, and plenty more altered shots. Four Valparaiso players finished with at least five rebounds; no Viking had more than three.

When it came to scoring, Horizon League Player of the Year contender Alec Peters led the charge. The 6-9 junior scored 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-8 threes. He has scored in double figures in 21 of 22 games this season. Starting forward David Skara added 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, with reserve guard Shane Hammink scoring another 10 on 4-of-6.

Valparaiso shot 50 percent from the field and a sizzling 46 percent (11-of-24) from beyond the arc. They assisted on 19 of their 29 field goals, a season high, including no fewer than three alley-oops. Cleveland State tried different defensive looks — man, press, zone — but none was able to slow down the Crusaders. Thirteen different Valpo players got on the court, and twelve of them scored at least one point.

As for Cleveland State, their offensive woes continued. They shot 41 percent from the field (18-of-44) and just 57 percent from the free throw line (13-of-23). They attempted 10 three-pointers and made three. Valparaiso’s size made post play impractical — CSU’s biggest starters were Demonte Flannigan and Jibri Blount at 6-7; Valpo started three guys bigger than 6-8. Without any pure shooting threat, the Vikings were left without many options. Freshman guard and leading scorer Rob Edwards did his best to penetrate and force the defense to collapse, but the Crusaders paid him plenty of attention and generally made life miserable.

Edwards led Cleveland State with 13 points (4-of-8 FG, 4-of-7 FT), but he also committed five turnovers. Carpenter and Flannigan scored 10 each on a combined 9-of-19 shooting. No other Viking scored more than five. They ran a bunch of different actions — weaves and pick-and-rolls and dribble handoffs and such — but there was no threat credible enough to truly put Valpo on its heels. CSU was often forced into contested jumpers or tough fadeaways, and that ain’t no way to make a living on offense.

Lurking in the background throughout was the idea of what could have been. A year ago these teams met in the Horizon League semifinal, with Valparaiso winning a hard-fought if not beautiful game, 60-55. From there, Cleveland State’s roster was gutted by transfers and graduation while Valpo’s largely remained in place. Whereas all of the Crusaders’ Thursday night starters saw significant playing time in 2014-15, Cleveland State started two true freshmen and two sophomores who averaged 17 minutes per game combined last season.

Had all of the pieces come back for both teams, they could well be battling for Horizon League supremacy. Instead, Valparaiso sits in the penthouse while Cleveland State looks up from near the basement. What a difference a year makes.

  1. Ed’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Yates as a senior. WFNY regrets the error. []