Although the rivalry between the Cleveland State Vikings and Butler Bulldogs may not be as nationally known as the rivalry between Duke and North Carolina, the intensity that is in the air whenever these two Horizon League rivals square off is just as strong. In fact, the animosity between these two teams may be even stronger than many major conference rivalries due to the fact these two teams often square off with the Horizon League’s automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament at stake. In 2009, the Vikings upset the Bulldogs on their floor to secure their first tournament appearance in decades. The Bulldogs exacted some measure of revenge in 2011, when they defeated the Vikings in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals on their way to winning the league’s automatic bid and their second straight appearance in the NCAA Championship Game.
Anyone who thought that the intensity of this year’s second matchup between the two teams would be diminished because the Bulldogs are somewhat of a long shot to repeat at Horizon League champions was sorely mistaken. After a disappointing loss on Thursday night to the Valparaiso Crusaders, the Vikings took the floor looking to begin another winning streak and to remain in contention for first place in the Horizon League. Coming off a road victory over the Youngstown State Penguins, the Bulldogs headed into Saturday’s morning contest looking to position themselves for yet another surprising postseason run.
After the Vikings notched a quick 4-2 advantage early in the first half, the Bulldogs used a 20-6 run to take a 10 point lead with slightly less than seven minutes left in the first half. Although the Vikings whittled away slightly at the Bulldogs’ lead, they were never able to come closer than seven points and the Bulldogs headed into halftime with a 28-18 lead. The Vikings’ Thursday night shooting woes continued into Saturday’ s contest, as the Vikings only shot 24.1% in the first half and were 0-9 from 3-point range. The Vikings would have been in serious trouble if not for the play of freshman Anton Grady, who replaced the injured D’Aundray Brown in the starting lineup and 12 points in the first half while contributing solid defense inside against the Bulldogs’ tall front line.
A concerned Wolstein Center crowd had much to cheer about early in the second half, as the Vikings stormed out of the locker room and immediately got to work erasing the Bulldogs’ lead. Powered by the 3-point shooting of senior Trevon Harmon, the Vikings used a 19-8 run to retake the lead with slightly more than 11 minutes left in the game.
The last 11 minutes played out in the usual style of Vikings\Bulldogs game, with the outcome not determined until the final buzzer and with both teams refusing to give an inch. The Bulldogs’ height advantage ultimately proved to be the difference, as they were able to pull down several key offensive rebounds late in the second half that led to important second shot opportunities for the visiting Bulldogs.
Ultimately, the Bulldogs escaped with a 52-49 victory when Grady missed a 3-point shot at the buzzer that could have tied the game for the Vikings.
Grady led all scorers with 18 points. Roosevelt Jones paced the Bulldogs with 17 points.
Although the Vikings still maintain a solid grip on second place in the Horizon League, which will allow them to receive an automatic spot in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals, Saturday’s loss means that the Vikings will need to win the majority of their remaining games if they intend to remain in second place. The Bulldogs’ win on Saturday allowed them to move into contention for third place in the Horizon League, allowing them to be in position for a favorable opening-round matchup if they continue their winning ways.