The Cleveland State Vikings and Drexel Dragons squared off on Saturday morning at the Wolstein Center as part of ESPN’s BracketBusters series. Saturday’s contest marks the second straight year in which the Vikings have participated in the BracketBusters series. Last season, the Vikings dropped a hard-fought contest to Old Dominion on the road in which the now-departed Norris Cole set a new BracketBusters record for points scored when he dropped 35 points on the Monarchs.
The Vikings took the floor on Saturday morning looking to shake a three game losing streak, having lost three straight games against some of the toughest teams in the Horizon League—the Valparaiso Crusaders, Butler Bulldogs, and Milwaukee Panthers. In contrast, the Dragons headed into Saturday’s contest with a 14 game winning streak.
In an attempt to reverse the Vikings’ recent struggles and cope with the loss of senior D’Aundray Brown, who has been described by Vikings coach Gary Waters as the team’s best player, Waters replaced freshman Anton Grady in the starting lineup with Marlin Mason, another talented freshman. This move should not be viewed as a statement about the play immensely talented Grady, but rather as an attempt by the Vikings to slow down the Dragons’ three-guard attack and to provide the Vikings with more offensive firepower off the bench.
Unfortunately, this move did not work. Saturday morning is quickly proving to be no friend to the Vikings, who struggled from the outset for the second straight week in a nationally televised Saturday morning game. The Dragons stormed out to a 19-3 lead with slightly more than 12 minutes remaining in the first half. Damion Lee’s nine points helped the Dragons silence the Wolstein Center crowd.
The Vikings’ tenacious defense allowed them to claw back into the game and cut the Dragons’ lead to 8 points with approximately six minutes remaining in the first half. However, the Dragons responded with a 15-7 run to end the first half that allowed them to head into the locker room with a commanding 38-22 lead.
Lee and the Vikings’ Trevon Harmon led their teams with 13 points in the first half. No other player for the Vikings scored more than four points, who only had four players enter the scoring column during the first 20 minutes of play.
The Dragons came out breathing fire in the second half, using a dazzling display of outside shooting to rip off a 13-5 run and take a 51-27 lead in the first five minutes of the second half. The Dragons’ lead steadily grew throughout the second half, and the Vikings were down by as many as 29 points.
Despite the deficit, the Vikings refused to quit, and they used an 18-9 run to cut the Dragons’ lead to 20 points by the end of the game. Nevertheless, the Vikings lost by a score of 69-49. Saturday’s loss marked the Vikings’ fourth straight loss and their third loss in a row at home.
However, Vikings fans who are feeling uneasy about the team’s postseason chances should not panic. In his postgame comments, Waters still sounded optimistic about the Vikings’ chances for the rest of the regular season. Waters stated that the Vikings will “keep fighting until we get it right” and expressed the belief that the Vikings will be in good shape once they are able to restore the high-pressure defense that helped them race out to a successful start to the season.
The Vikings will travel to for a Tuesday evening matchup with the Green Bay Phoenix in what should be another intense Horizon League conference game. The Vikings will need to approach each of their last three remaining games with the intensity of a postseason matchup if they intend to maintain their tenuous hold on second place in the Horizon League standings and secure an automatic spot in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament.