The Cleveland State Vikings’ 2015-16 season concluded Saturday afternoon with a 55-51 loss to Wright State at the Wolstein Center. They finish the regular season 9-22 with a 4-14 record in conference play, good enough for ninth place in the 10-team Horizon League. Only Illinois-Chicago (5-24; 3-15) ended the year below CSU in the standings.
Cleveland State’s attention now turns to the Horizon League tournament, which begins this Saturday in Detroit. Previously, first-round games were played at the higher seed’s gym, but the entirety of this year’s tourney will be held at Joe Louis Arena. CSU plays No. 4 Green Bay in round one, with the winner facing either No. 5 Milwaukee or No. 8 Northern Kentucky. Head coach Gary Waters was fairly pleased with his team after Saturday’s game, and thinks that being a low seed could allow his Vikes to play without any pressure.
“We don’t have to be tight,” said Waters. “They don’t expect us to win it.”
“I think this team is feeling good about itself going into the tournament.”
– Gary Waters
As for the Wright State game, it was a reasonably well-contested one. Wright State went into halftime with a 28-22 lead, led by 6-foot-10 center Michael Karena. The big man scored 12 of his 18 points in the first half, including 6-of-7 from the free throw line. The Raiders pulled away midway through the second half, going on a 14-3 run to make it 49-34 with 6:06 to go. The 15-point advantage was Wright State’s largest of the game, and all of their points during the big run came at either the rim, the free throw line, or the three-point arc.
An old-fashioned three-point play from CSU freshman Rob Edwards capped a quick 6-0 mini-run to bring Cleveland State within 10 points with 5:17 to play. For the remainder of the game, however, the Vikings couldn’t make the big push they needed. They played sound defense — Wright State scored just six points over the final six minutes — but couldn’t conjure enough offense necessary to do the job. They got points here and there, mostly at the free throw line. In the end, the clock was their greatest enemy.
The Vikings trailed, 53-47, with 36 seconds remaining. They chances looked to be dashed when Kenny Carpenter’s deep three rimmed out and Wright State corralled the rebound. Wright State’s J.T. Yoho, however, missed the front end of a one-and-one. Rob Edwards got the rebound, gave it up to Carpenter, got it back, and buried a left wing three as he was fouled. He added the freebie to complete the four-point play. Wright State 53, Cleveland State 51, with 16 seconds left.
Wright State played a good bit of keepaway on the ensuing possession, and sophomore guard Mark Alstork went to the line for two shots with 6.2 remaining. Alstork, Wright State’s leading scorer and a 70 percent free thrower, had made just two of his first eight shots from the line on Saturday. He converted both in the closing seconds, however, and put the game on ice. Andre Yates’ leaning, last-ditch three was off the mark, and the Raiders grabbed the rebound as time expired.
Rob Edwards led the Vikings with a game-high 20 points, shooting 4-of-11 from the field (3-of-6 3FG) and 9-of-10 at the line. Edwards also had eight rebounds. Kenny Carpenter finished with 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists, while Andre Yates scored 9 points. Playing in his last home game, senior forward Vinny Zollo totaled 6 points and 10 rebounds. Zollo didn’t shoot well (2-of-10), but he did good work on the boards.
Junior forward Demonte Flannigan missed his second game in a row after suffering a concussion in practice. He is expected to play in the tournament.
The Vikings finished the season losing 9 of their last 11 games. Still, Gary Waters saw something he liked in the last few contests. CSU lost to Green Bay, their first-round tournament opponent, but they were in that game. They led at halftime and hung around before a big Green Bay run ended. Then they beat Northern Kentucky, a Horizon League newcomer. They ended the year with a loss to Wright State, but it came down to the final moments — and this year’s Raiders were a pretty good squad.
“We played Green Bay really really tough,” Waters said. “We beat a team that I thought was a pretty good team in Northern Kentucky, and we had this team [Wright State] on the ropes too. I think this team is feeling good about itself going into the tournament.”
We’ll find out soon enough.