In his postgame comments, Cleveland State Vikings head coach Gary Waters described Friday night’s game against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies as “a test of resiliency.”
Coach Waters’ statement might be the understatement of the year.
In a physical, hard-fought game that resembled a rugby scrum more than a basketball game at times, the Vikings pulled out a 67-64 comeback victory against the visiting St. Bonaventure Bonnies when senior guard Trevon Harmon nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2.8 seconds left.
Heading into the game, the Vikings knew that they would face a tough task in containing the Bonnies’ Andrew Nicholson, a senior forward and future NBA draft pick who was named to the Preseason Wooden Award Watch List. Earlier in the week, the Vikings were unsure if senior center Aaron Pogue, the key to the Vikings’ defensive attack against Nicholson, would be available for tonight’s game. Pogue missed Tuesday night’s game against Rio Grande with an injury. Fortunately for the Vikings, Pogue recovered from his injury and reclaimed his usual starting spot. Pogue has been one of the Vikings’ most improved players this season. He lost weight during the offseason and worked on his game, making him an improved defender and athletic scorer and enabling him to evade the foul trouble that plagued him throughout last season.
Fueled by a larger-than-normal home crowd and boisterous student section, the Vikings jumped out to a 12-9 lead with 14 minutes left in the first half. Motivated by a sizable contingent of vocal fans seated behind their bench, the Bonnies responded with a 13-3 run of their own to take a 22-15 lead with slightly more than 10 minutes left in the first half. Three of the Vikings’ senior leaders—D’Aundray Brown, Harmon and Pogue — combined to score seven quick points to tie the score at 22-22 with slightly less than seven minutes remaining. From that point on, neither team held more than a four-point lead until Nicholson sank a jumper at the end of the first half to send the Bonnies into the locker room with a five-point lead.
The second half was as intense and hard-fought as an NCAA Tournament game. Although the Vikings never reclaimed the lead until three minutes remained in the second half, the Vikings’ unyielding pressure defense kept them in the game and prevented the Bonnies from pulling away. The Vikings forced a total of 23 turnovers on the night with a relentless pressure defense that coach Gary Waters claimed would cause “everyone in the country” to struggle.
After the Vikings briefly reclaimed a three-point lead with 2:21 left in the second half, the Bonnies tied the game on a 3-point play by Michael Davenport with 1:30 remaining. After the teams traded missed baskets, the Vikings took possession with 30 seconds left in the game. As the Wolstein Center screamed in support, the Vikings ran the clock down with the intent of leaving no time left on the clock for a final shot by the Bonnies. Senior forward Tim Kamczyc, whom Waters described as “the glue to what we do,” passed to a surprisingly open Harmon who had shed his defender on a pick from Pogue, and Harmon nailed the game-winning shot.
Although Nicholson scored 19 points, blocked four shots, and pulled down six rebounds, the Vikings were able to limit his overall impact on the game with consistent double-teaming all game long. Pogue led a defensive effort in the first half that limited Nicholson to 13 quiet points. After Pogue picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, the Vikings employed a combination of sophomore Luda Ndaye and freshman Anton Grady to limit Nicholson to 6 second half points. Nicholson fouled out with 3:32 remaining in the second half after picking up several quick fouls during a particularly intense sequence.
Cleveland State’s talented freshmen came up big once again in Friday’s victory. Freshman Ike Nwamu made his regular-season debut for the Vikings and scored his first regular-season points on a layup with 14 minutes remaining in the first half. Sebastian Douglas, Charlie Lee and Grady all were praised in Waters’ postgame efforts for their outstanding play off the bench, which enabled the starters to receive much-needed rest throughout the game.
The Vikings improved to 3-0 and will now embark on a grueling seven-game stretch of road games beginning with Tuesday night’s contest against the Kent State Golden Flashes.