Cleveland State led Horizon League doormat Illinois-Chicago by as many as 12 points Saturday afternoon, but the Flames fought back to defeat the foul-troubled Vikings in overtime. The 72-70 win snaps UIC’s 10-game losing streak and puts the Flames in the win column for the first time in conference play. The loss drops Cleveland State to 7-16 on the year (2-8 Horizon League) and arguably marks a low point in what was expected to be a difficult season.
The broad strokes go like this. UIC came out strong, attacking the rim and building a 15-9 lead in the early going. Cleveland State took control, with Kenny Carpenter leading the Vikes to a 37-29 halftime advantage. The game was close for much of the second half, though foul trouble became significant issue. CSU starters Rob Edwards and Demonte Flannigan sat much of the half with four fouls, while Vinny Zollo’s night ended when he picked up a technical on the heels of his fourth infraction.
The Vikings bench largely held its own, but UIC stayed just close enough. A Jibri Blount layup put Cleveland State ahead, 64-57, with two minutes to play. From there, the Flames attacked the rim, got to the charity stripe, and converted when it counted. Jake Wiegand, Najeal Young, and Dikembe Dixson combined to go 5-of-6 from the line, cutting CSU’s lead to 64-62 with a minute to play.
Dixson tied the game with 31 seconds to go, getting a tough leaner to go from the right block. From there, one would think that Cleveland State would hold the ball for the last shot, or, as the shot clock is only 30 seconds nowadays, something close to it. Instead, Kenny Carpenter — who, it should be said, had a career day — put up an ill-advised, off-balance runner with some 14 seconds to go. The Vikings got the ball back after it was knocked out of bounds, but they were unable to put up a shot as Rob Edwards lost the ball. Overtime.
Cleveland State scored on their first three overtime possessions — and none after that. Jake Wiegand tied the game at 70 with a strong move in the post. Then, with just two seconds left on the clock, Najeal Young put the Flames ahead for good. He took a pass on the right wing, pulled up after one dribble, and buried a lefty jumper. Cleveland State couldn’t conjure any last-second magic. Flames win, Vikings lose.
A quick look at some relevant statistics:
54 — The two sides combined for 54 fouls, 34 of which were on Cleveland State. It was ugly. Either team could have gone ahead comfortably if either was able to convert from the foul line. Cleveland State shot 14-of-22 (64 percent) from the stripe, while Illinois-Chicago was a cover-your-eyes bad 26-of-48 (54 percent). The Flames made a concerted effort to get to the hoop in the second half, and CSU hacked them to the tune of 30 second-half free throw attempts.
To that end, foul trouble forced Gary Waters to go to his bench quite a bit. Starters Rob Edwards, Demonte Flannigan, and Terrell Hales had four fouls apiece early in the second half.
24 — To that end, sophomore Kenny Carpenter picked up a bunch of slack for the Vikings. The 6-4 guard from Detroit finished with a career-high 24 points on 10-of-21 shooting, along with 7 rebounds and 3 steals. He put up 16 points in the first half, scoring from beyond the arc, at the rim, and everywhere in between. He couldn’t keep it going all game, however, and Cleveland State’s offense bogged down as a result.
15, 6, 4 — Freshman Jibri Blount has taken a starting spot from senior Vinny Zollo, and he put up his best stat line of the season Saturday. The 6-7 forward totaled 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists in 31 minutes, getting to the free throw line 8 times. He has been forced into big man duty for Cleveland State this year, but looks best suited as a sort of playmaking 4 type.
That’s about all the analysis this game warrants. Cleveland State is now 2-8 in conference play, and there are some tough games left on the Horizon League schedule (home vs. Detroit, Oakland, and Valparaiso; at Milwaukee and Green Bay). This one will likely sting for a while. It should.