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What Was The Reason Behind Cleveland State’s Five Game Losing Streak?

by - Published February 26, 2012 in Conference Notes
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Why did the Cleveland State Vikings recently have a five game losing streak?

It’s simple–whenever a team loses their most valuable player, they’re going to suffer.

The Cleveland State Vikings have had their fair share of above-average talent on the roster over the past few years. Cedric Jackson played briefly for multiple teams in the NBA and is currently playing overseas. Both J’Nathan Bullock and George Tandy have also played overseas. Norris Cole, the best known Viking alum, was drafted in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft and is currently a major contributor for the Miami Heat. Some of the Vikings’ talented freshmen such as Anton Grady and Marlin Mason also have the potential to play professionally after their careers at Cleveland State have been completed.

However, a strong case could be made for the claim that the Vikings’ most valuable player over the past few years is senior D’Aundray Brown.

Brown’s contributions on the court and importance to the Vikings often go unnoticed to fans because he is not a prolific scorer or flashy player in general. Nevertheless, Brown’s intense defense, leadership on the court, and constant hustle have helped propel the Vikings into the victory column on countless occasions. The Vikings’ press—which is the key to their success—operates much more effectively when Brown, who is among the NCAA leaders in steals, is on the court.

Unfortunately, Brown’s promising career at Cleveland State has been derailed multiple times over the past few seasons because of injuries. During each of his absences, the Vikings’ performance on the court has declined dramatically.

In the 2009-2010 season, Brown suffered an eye injury that caused him to miss the Vikings’ final game in the Horizon League Tournament. The Vikings lost by seven points to a Milwaukee Panthers team who rode a great shooting performance into the tournament semifinals. Brown’s defensive intensity could have easily made a difference in that game.

Brown missed the entire 2010-2011 season with a wrist injury. The effects of Brown’s injury were not seen at first, as the Vikings raced out to a 21-3 record. However, the Vikings’ bench failed to produce all season long, and the Vikings’ starters were forced to log major minutes for much of the season. The heavy minutes took their toll towards the end of the season, as the Vikings struggled down the stretch and lost four of their final seven regular-season games. These losses cost the Vikings the opportunity to host the Horizon League Tournament, and the Vikings ultimately lost to Butler in the tournament semifinals. Towards the end of the season, Vikings coach Gary Waters was quoted as saying that the Vikings would have won the Horizon League Tournament if Brown had been on the roster. Any Vikings fan who watched the exhausted Vikings towards the end of the season would easily agree with Waters’ statement.

This season, the Vikings sprinted out to yet another successful start to the season. With Brown fully healthy and contributing lockdown defense and hustle, the Vikings won several close games early in the season and defeated several quality opponents. Beginning the year with an upset of the nationally-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores, the Vikings appeared to be poised to win the regular season Horizon League Championship until Brown suffered a groin injury against the Loyola Ramblers.

Brown’s injury sent the Vikings into a tailspin that nearly derailed their season. The Vikings lost five straight games, including two blowout losses to the Valparaiso Crusaders and Drexel Dragons, and were in major danger of falling to third place in the Horizon League and losing the opportunity to receive an automatic spot in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament. Without Brown, the Vikings looked nothing like the intense, focused, and crisp team that had dominated many of their previous opponents and effortlessly won buzzer-beater games. The Vikings looked lost on offense, were unable to impose their turnover-producing defensive pressure on opponents, and played nothing like the team that had dominated opponents earlier in the season. Fortunately for the Vikings and their fans, the Vikings righted their ship and managed to secure the second seed in the Horizon League Tournament after they won their two final conference games without Brown and were aided by a crucial Valparaiso win over the Butler Bulldogs.

Sure, other Vikings have put up more stats and make more headlines. However, when the impact on the play and record of the Vikings is taken into consideration, Brown’s enormous impact on the Vikings cannot be disputed. If one defines Most Valuable Player as the player who has the biggest impact on his team’s fortunes, Brown surely must be mentioned in the conversation for the Vikings’ most valuable player.

Cleveland State edges St. Bonaventure in hard-fought match up

by - Published November 19, 2011 in Conference Notes

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.

Cleveland State pulls away in second half to beat Rio Grande

by - Published November 15, 2011 in Conference Notes

After its upset victory over the nationally ranked Vanderbilt Commodores Sunday afternoon, Cleveland State could easily have been expected to face a bit of a letdown Tuesday night when the Vikings squared off against the Rio Grande Red Storm in their home opener at the Wolstein Center. Rio Grande is an NAIA school from southern Ohio, and some fans may have even expected the Vikings to overlook the Red Storm in their anticipation of Friday night’s matchup against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies.

As the Vikings headed onto the floor, the Wolstein Center crowd’s excitement about the home opener was tempered by the fact that senior center Aaron Pogue was not in uniform. Pogue later joined the team in street clothes on the bench to scattered applause with 2:25 left in the first half but did not play in Tuesday’s victory. Sophomore forward Ludovic Ndaye started in his place and scored seven points and pulled down seven rebounds. After the game, Vikings coach Gary Waters said Pogue’s lack of playing time was injury related and not a disciplinary matter.

Showing no signs of a letdown, the Vikings jumped out to a 14-6 lead. The Red Storm tied the game at 17-17 with 9:27 left in the first half. However, the Vikings proceeded to rip off a 9-0 run and grew their lead to 26-17 with 5:45 remaining in the first half. Fueled by their relentless full-court pressure, which forced eight first-half turnovers, the Vikings slowly extended their lead during the remainder of the first half. Notably, senior guard Jeremy Montgomery had a special moment as he surpassed 1,000 points in his Cleveland State career with a basket during the first half.

Following an acrobatic turnaround jumper at the buzzer by senior forward D’Aundray Brown, the Vikings headed into halftime with a 40-27 lead. Brown led all scorers in the first half with 13 points and has shown no signs of rust in the first two games after missing last season due to a finger injury.

In the second half, the Vikings opened with a 13-6 run in the first five minutes to extend their lead to 53-33. Jermaine Warmack, who came off the bench to score 24 points for the Red Storm, single-handedly kept the Vikings’ lead to around 20 for much of the second half.

However, the Vikings steadily expanded their lead throughout the course of the second half and led by 80-52 with 3:57 left in the second half after a spectacular three-point play by Brown.

The Vikings’ bench again played a key role in the victory. After a foul-plagued first half, freshman forward Anton Grady rebounded in the second half with 12 points, seven rebounds, and six blocks, many of which sent the Wolstein Center crowd to their feet in appreciation. In his postgame comments, Waters said he hopes to limit the starters’ minutes throughout the season and that the starters will receive further bench support when freshman Ike Nwamu, who has missed the Vikings’ first two games with a concussion, is cleared for play. However, Vikings fans shouldn’t count on seeing Marlin Mason in action this season, as Waters said he hopes to redshirt Mason this season to develop his ability to play the small forward position.

The Vikings’ next game will be this Friday at home against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies, which Waters as “a very big team” with a future high NBA draft pick in the frontcourt.

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