A rough year just gets rougher for the Cleveland State Vikings. Despite a career-high 25-point, 10-rebound, 3-block effort from junior forward Demonte Flannigan, CSU dropped its fourth straight game Thursday night at the Wolstein Center. The loss brings Cleveland State’s record to 7-17 (2-9 in Horizon League play), while the visiting Detroit Titans improved to 11-11 (5-6 HL). Junior Chris Jenkins paced Detroit with 20 points, knocking down 6-of-8 threes.
Jenkins’ hot shooting spearheaded Detroit’s 10-for-21 performance from beyond the arc. The Titans’ ability to knock down so many threes shone a brighter light on Cleveland State’s inability to do the same. The Vikings went 3-for-20 from outside, with Rob Edwards, Kenny Carpenter, and Andre Yates combining to go 0-for-12. Detroit spent much of the game in a lane-clogging zone defense.
“It comes down to if we can hit shots — and that’s what we can’t do,” Vikings head coach Gary Waters said after the game. “Until we do a better job of that, it’s going to be hard to stay in games. Some days you hit shots, some days you don’t. Our last game [against Illinois-Chicago] we hit shots, we should have won that game. This game, we couldn’t hit shots, so we’ll never have a chance to win those kind of games.”
“They knew they couldn’t guard us inside, so they went back and stayed in a zone and dared us to shoot.”
– Gary Waters
After a gruesome start that saw more fouls and turnovers than points in the first six minutes, Cleveland State made it a mission to attack the rim. Their efforts paid off, as they cut an eight-point deficit to two by halftime. Demonte Flannigan led the way in the first half, totaling 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks on 9-of-12 shooting. Flannigan’s career has been marked by some inconsistency, but he came into this game with an aggressive attitude.
“[Flannigan] came into my office and we talked yesterday, and before the game, and he said, ‘I’m gonna be a dog today, Coach. I’m going after them.’ And he showed it.”
He was true to his word. Detroit doesn’t have a true big man, and Flannigan was able to impose his will in the paint. The Vikings also fared well when their guards were able to penetrate — junior Andre Yates1 and walk-on freshman Nelson Maxwell combined for six first-half assists. Unfortunately for CSU, Detroit adjusted accordingly, mucking up the middle with a 2-3 zone for most of the second half. Waters said that Detroit’s preferred zone is usually a 3-2, but they went with a 2-3 to put more bodies around the rim.
“They knew they couldn’t guard us inside,” Waters said, “So they went back and stayed in a zone and dared us to shoot.”
The strategy paid off. Without room to operate on the interior, Flannigan had just six points and four rebounds after halftime, and CSU’s guards couldn’t make them pay from downtown. Cleveland State tied the game at 36 early in the second half, but from there the Titans went on a 15-2 run that all but ended the game. Detroit grew more confident in its zone as the game went on — they talked more, rotated faster, and recovered quicker. Cleveland State got some good looks when they were able to get the ball into the middle or in the short corner along the baseline, but those opportunities were hard to come by.
The discrepancy in the two halves was not lost on Waters.
“This team was beatable today in here,” he said. “We just couldn’t hit any shots. They play man-to-man the first half and we shoot 47 percent. They play zone all the second half and we shoot 37 percent. That’s the difference of the game.”
Flannigan said, “We have to work harder going against a 2-3 — or any kind of zone.” The Vikings’ options are just so limited without a consistent perimeter threat. Freshman Daniel Levitt showed promise from the outside, but he could miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Rob Edwards is a 40 percent three-point shooter, but he can run hot and cold. The song remains the same, and the jukebox is unlikely to change until next season.
Some other notes on Thursday night’s game…