Tag Archives: Anton Grady

Jermaine Henderson Joins the Cleveland State Coaching Staff. A Sign of Things to Come?

When Jermaine Kimbrough left in May to join the coaching staff at Nevada, it was right in the middle of a relatively low point for Cleveland State. After all, Kimbrough’s departure was preceded by Trey Lewis’ transfer to Louisville and was subsequently followed up by Anton Grady’s move to Wichita State. And with Kimbrough serving as the Vikings’ recruiting coordinator, it seemed as if the entire program was imploding right before our eyes.

Now, while the prospect of Cleveland State competing for a Horizon League title still appears pretty bleak, at least fans have themselves a glimmer of hope when it comes to who has been announced to replace Kimbrough.

That new face comes in the form of Jermaine Henderson, who has spent the past three seasons as the assistant coach at Missouri State. Of course, there are plenty of Mid-American Conference ties here, given that Henderson was a player at Miami University then transitioned to coaching, serving as an assistant and, from 2005 to 2012, an associate head coach under the late Charlie Coles.

And yes, CSU fans. If you’re doing the math, as the Redhawks top recruiter, he was the one who brought in Jon Harris, who spent his senior campaign as a Viking.

It’s interesting, really, how it seems that Henderson would be available in the first place, seeing as how he appeared to be one of the top candidates to replace Coles when he retired in 2012, along with fellow Miami assistant and former Butler head coach Todd Lickliter.

But for whatever reason, the powers that be went in another direction, bypassing Henderson and Lickliter completely in favor of Tennessee State head coach John Cooper, who still hasn’t been able to get the Redhawks to a winning season in the past three years.

Miami’s loss would be Missouri State’s, and now Cleveland State’s, gain.

And with Henderson’s history of recruiting in Ohio, it’s no wonder why the Vikings and head coach Gary Waters would jump at the chance to bring him on board. Among the athletes he brought into the fold at Miami were MAC Players of the Year Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Bramos, as well as local high school standouts Chet Mason and Julius Johnson.

Given Cleveland State’s recruiting footprint has been geared more towards Michigan in recent years, the experience Henderson brings in landing Ohio athletes will hopefully expand the map more for the Vikings in the future.

What is more intriguing about Henderson’s hire is, once again, his history with the Redhawks that included a 3-3 record as interim head coach filling in for a hospitalized Coles. That included a MAC Tournament win in 2008 over Buffalo. As a player and as a coach, Henderson was a part of four NCAA tournaments and two NITs with Miami.

Not to read too much into it, but it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that this hire could be a look to the future. Remember, Waters is under contract until 2019, and with his age, the 2018-19 campaign may be his last.

At the same time, Henderson, who has been considered for a head coaching job before, will still be in his mid-40s. For all the hand-wringing fans have done related to what would happen after Waters retired, maybe this is a sign of what’s to come?

But again, we’ve getting far too ahead of ourselves on that front. The big thing Henderson should bring is the opportunity for Cleveland State to shake of this perception that the program has fallen into a quagmire of complacency that it didn’t really seem to know how to dig out of.

While this season may be middling, given the recent defections, maybe there really is a light at the end of the tunnel for the Vikings.

Then again, that light may be another train, provided courtesy of a Grady interview with the Wichita Eagle. In the story, Grady might have shed some light on the burning fan question, “Why does CSU seem to be a place players want to leave lately?”

Primarily, Grady had stated that he was looking for an opportunity to expand his game beyond the defensive focus of the Waters system. With the expansion of his shooting range recently to include attempts beyond the three-point line, the thinking made some sort of sense.

But then there was this other gem.

“Everybody wasn’t on the same page. (At WSU), it’s more ‘I’m happy that guy can shoot the ball because that will help us win’ more than ‘He can shoot the ball, he going’s to take some of my minutes.'”

Now, that probably wasn’t true in Grady’s case, seeing as how he was the primary starter his whole time at Cleveland State and there was never really anybody with the same level of talent to take that job away from him. However, this mentality may very well have been the impetus for other departures, most notably Junior Lomomba, who seemingly found himself as the odd man out after the emergence of Bryn Forbes in 2013.

Whatever the case may be, Grady’s comments only draws more questions that Cleveland State didn’t want to have to answer. Of course, since most have checked out on CSU for the summer, maybe nobody will remember.

Why Is Everybody Leaving Cleveland State Basketball???

I can’t wait to see what CSU’s pitch to draw fans is going to be next year. Will “Cleveland State Basketball: At Least We’re Not Youngstown State!” be the slogan?

As it stands right now, it won’t be because fans will have any kind of hope to win anything next season. That tends to happen when you lose your top three scorers and four of your five starters. It’s kind of sad that fans may be referring to the back-to-back CollegeInsider.com Tournament bids as the salad days.

Though not entirely unexpected, redshirt junior forward Anton Grady has been given his release to leave Cleveland State and transfer. As was the case with Trey Lewis, Grady, who will graduate this May, is immediately eligible to play for another school.

But that wasn’t the only bad news this week coming out of the Wolstein Center, which seems to be a fountain of crappy news as of late. Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Jermaine Kimbrough is leaving the Vikings to join Nevada and its new head coach, Eric Musselman.

So, when Cleveland State ends up finishing at the bottom of the Horizon League because of these recent events, I want you to have expected the flood of excuses and gripes coming out of the Wolstein Center.

“Oh, the system is broken!”

“The NCAA needs to change its transfer rules!”

A variation of each of these two statements is pretty much all you’re ever going to get out of the men’s basketball offices or Athletics, for that matter. And unless CSU is planning to cut another sport, you’ll probably read about all of these events in some news dump that’s lumped in with Akron and Kent State on cleveland.com.

So instead of waiting for questions that will never be asked and answers that will never be given, let me go ahead and start throwing around some ideas.

I will go ahead and start with the most obvious problem; the elephant in the room, if you will. If you have the opportunity to play at a high-major school, like Lewis, Bryn Forbes and, most likely, Grady do, aren’t you going to take it? And it’s not like the Vikings haven’t been able to go toe-to-toe with the big boys in years past.

No, this is all about the attention.

Take Lewis’ final destination of Louisville, for example. Thousands of people showed up for the Cleveland State game in November. Thousands. When Lewis announced his transfer, countless Cardinal fans were all over it, as was the local media.

Meanwhile, the Vikings, who only lost three games at the Wolstein Center this season, finished last in the Horizon League in home attendance, drawing less than 2,000 a game. Yes, Cleveland State was outdrawn by conference doormats YSU and Illinois-Chicago.

And I threw UIC in there to head off a well-heeled point constantly made by the folks at CSU about how it’s hard to draw in a pro town.

Chicago, of course, has five pro sports teams and four Division I programs (including nearby Northwestern). And Illinois-Chicago has bested Cleveland State in attendance two years in a row, including the 2013-14 season in which the Vikings finished second and the Flames won only a single game in the conference.

And if you have aspirations of a professional career, as I expect Lewis and Grady should have, you want as much media attention as possible.

How exactly is that going to happen when the largest newspaper in the area pays more attention to Ohio State and lumps your coverage in with two schools not located in Cleveland? Plus, how is that going to happen when one of the two sports radio stations largely ignores everything about your school (except your ad dollars, of course)?

I admit that I’m terribly frustrated by Lewis and Grady’s departure, but I understand why they left. In fact, I’ll bet that there are hordes of self-loathing CSU students who would transfer out the first chance they got.

And I also understand why Kimbrough would want to seek life elsewhere. After all, if you’ve been at the same job for nine years and you basically had no hope for a promotion, wouldn’t you want to get a better deal?

Yes, all of this sounds pretty harsh. So what? All anybody within the confines of Cleveland State is going to do is secretly grumble about anything I just said. It’s not like you haven’t been doing that for nearly 20 years anyway.

The transfer system may be broken, but perhaps you should look inward to see if you’re not a little broken yourselves, CSU.

The program has had a decent run. There’s no doubt about that. But the good times were brief, and we’re looking at a very low time once again that hasn’t been seen since coach Gary Waters took over. With three years left on his contract, Waters needs to check to see if complacency hasn’t set in and that it hasn’t infected his program.

Otherwise, we may soon have to do away with the “at least we’re not Youngstown State” point.

Cleveland State's Season Ends at NJIT

When you go up against a team like the New Jersey Institute of Technology that treats this game like it’s the NCAA championship game, you have to know what to expect.

Unfortunately, for one Cleveland State basketball player, those expectations didn’t stop a violation of team rules.

For the second time this season, senior Charlie Lee found himself sitting out of another Vikings contest. The first time, of course, was his six-game vacation at the start of the season.

This time, however, instead of getting another opportunity to redeem himself, Cleveland State’s season has officially come to a close.

Host NJIT rode hot three-point shooting all the way to the end of the game, when a Ky Howard triple basically willed itself into the basket after bouncing around the rim multiple times. It turned out to be the game-winner, giving the Highlanders an 80-77 win over the Vikings.

Naturally, NJIT fans who made their way to the miniscule Fleischer Center did what you’d pretty much expect what folks rooting for a team who treats this like their championship would do. They rushed the court. Given the Highlanders’ history which includes a 51-game losing streak in their early years in Division I, their enthusiasm is understandable.

Cleveland State, on the other hand, gets to once again asked itself the dreaded question of what would have been the outcome had Lee been on the court. Speculation, it would appear, is all Viking fans will have left of this season.

Well, that and wonder what it must be like to have that rabid a fan base for such a small school that’s struggled since its entry into Division I and been without a conference since 2013.

Personally, I’d love to see a rematch with NJIT next season. It would have to be at the Wolstein Center, though. It’s still odd to see a college sports venue that is about half the size of the gym I had in high school.

While Lee squandered his chance to extend his season, the other senior on the roster, Marlin Mason, had one of the best games of his career. Starting the game, naturally, with a thunderous dunk, Mason switched to outside the three-point line, connecting on five of seven attempts. Of course, he would have loved to have hit that sixth three with nine second left in the game, but it was not to be.

Then there was Anton Grady, who notched his final double-double of the season, leading everyone with 26 points and 11 rebounds. This post-season has also provided the junior forward with the green light to shoot three-pointers to expand his range, and he hit another in the defeat.

Grady and Mason’s production was sorely needed, as leading scorer Trey Lewis was defended heavily for the most of the game, limited to six shots and hitting one 1-of-4 from beyond the arc.

With Lee out, head coach Gary Waters had to turn to somebody, and apparently, it was freshman Kenny Carpenter, who had been used sparingly throughout the season. Clearly, he was well-rested, because in his 27 minutes, he pulled down seven boards and scoring six points, including a three-pointer at the end of the first half that gave the Vikings a 44-39 lead.

It’s not clear whether this was a one-off performance, but with minutes at the guard spot likely to remain at a premium next season, it sets up an interesting competition between Carpenter and fellow freshman Terrelle Hales.

As much production as Cleveland State was getting on the offensive end (49 percent shooting), NJIT was far better. The vaunted Viking pressure defense didn’t seem to take in this match-up, allowing the Highlanders to practically score at will at times. Led by Winfield Willis, NJIT shot an unthinkable 54.5 percent from the field and made 50 percent of its shots beyond the arc.

For long stretches of the game, CSU had to play catch-up with the Highlanders, forced to crawl back from three seven-point gaps and two eight-point deficits; one at the start of the game and an one with 5:26 left in the game.

With Waters opting to use an eight-man rotation, it appeared that the extended minutes and the wear and tear of the season caught up with the Vikings, which went along with a small but lively crowd and a little bit of magic for Howard with the game-closing triple.

And so, with the loss, the Season of Blah has finally ended. Cleveland State, the last Horizon League team in the post-season, finished at 19-15. It’s another winning season, certainly, but there were so many missed opportunities to accomplish more.

It also means that the media will turn its attention to other things, like Browns dysfunction, Cavs dysfunction (maybe), the Indians (maybe), watching paint dry, etc. Of course, it looks like Cleveland.com started pulling its attention early, not even running a story online, despite the fact that Advance sister publication NJ.com was all over it.

I guess the draw of the NCAA Tournament games at Quicken Loans Arena were too great a pull. With Cleveland State as a co-sponsor with the MAC, I’m sure that won’t cause any awkwardness at all.

While there is so much more to be said about this season for the Vikings, that will be reserved for another day. So, instead, let us all recite that time-old and most Cleveland of sayings:

There’s always next year.

Cleveland State Hammers Western Michigan to Move on in the CIT

With a third-tier tournament such as the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament, it’s hard to get an idea on what kind of intensity teams will come out with. For some, the wear of the long season and the lack of motivation to play can turn a usually-stalwart team into a tub of goo.

So when Cleveland State traveled to Kalamazoo to play Western Michigan in its first-round CIT match-up, nobody was really sure how the Vikings would come out against the Broncos. Would they come out with fire that fueled them during their wins against Green Bay? Or would they come out flat, as they did in their losses down the stretch.

We got our answer: Cleveland State 86, Western Michigan 57.

And the Vikings made it look really easy.

In fact, the only trouble anybody faced during the game were the fans, who spent the opening part of the game scrambling to find their radios when the CIT video feed went on the blink. And when it came back, they were greeted by a broadcast team that apparently doesn’t read their notes.

Both Anton Grady and Andre Yates, who wear Nos. 15 and 1, respectively, switched jersey numbers for the CIT opener to 5 for Grady and 2 for Yates. Despite the fact that CSU Sports Information director Greg Murphy passed along the changes, that didn’t stop the announcers from confusing Yates with transfer Myles Hamilton, who is sitting out this season, and Grady for red-shirted Jono Janssen.

Other than that, it was probably one of the most dominant offensive games the Vikings have had all season against a team not named Mt. Vernon Nazarene.

As it turned out, the three-pointer, which has been a problem for Cleveland State when it shot far too many, wasn’t really a problem against the Broncos. The Vikings were scorching from beyond the arc, shooting 52 percent, hitting on 13, which was one short of an all-time record.

Speaking of records, Charlie Lee, who was looking to extend his final season a little longer, was really eyeing the single-game mark of nine triples set by Percell Coles in 2003 and Trey Lewis earlier this season. He came up one short, but led all scorers with 28 points and dished out six assists.

Even Grady got into the three-point act himself. He ended up shooting as many treys in this game (three) as he had the entire season, hitting on two of them.

For everything Grady has done this season in the paint and from the perimeter, if the three-pointer becomes a part of his arsenal next season, he’s going to be far more dangerous to Horizon League opponents.

Given the online broadcasting difficulties, most fans not listening to the play-by-play broadcast from Al Pawlowski probably missed the opening minute and a half, which saw Western Michigan with what would be its only lead of the game at 5-3. That’s when the Vikings ripped off a 13-2 run led by Lee, Grady and Marlin Mason.

Ironically, Pawlowski mentioned that this was a good CSU game to watch during this run, as many were still trying in vain to get the streaming video to work.

Of course, it didn’t looking like it would turn into the romp it did later on in the first half, as the Vikings, who led 26-11 at the 12-minute media timeout, went cold for five minutes, allowing WMU to cut the lead to six. Then Lee went unconscious, swishing home a trio of triples that would have made the ball catch fire in his hands like the old NBA Jam video game.

By halftime, Cleveland State was comfortably ahead of the Broncos, 49-31. And then, to start off the second half, the Vikings decided to have a little fun.

CSU opened the half with three dunks; a breakaway from Trey Lewis and two alley-oops, with Mason on the receiving end of the flush.

For those scoring at home, it should be noted that Mason’s Twitter handle is, in fact, @flight_Mason21. He had three slams in the game, as part of his 13 points. It’s safe to say he lived up to his handle in the win.

The Viking lead was well over 30 for most of the closing minutes during the game, and since the victory was assured, it gave head coach Gary Waters the opportunity to give his top players some much-needed rest down the stretch.

Lee and Mason were joined as scoring leaders by Grady, who finished with 21 points to go along with 14 rebounds as part of yet another double-double. Lewis, who was quiet in the first half, scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half.

Oddly enough, Cleveland State is now the only Horizon League team left playing in the post-season. Valparaiso fell in its opening round game of the NCAA Tournament to Maryland. Green Bay, the conference’s only representative in the NIT, lost, 69-56, to CSU guard Kaza Keane’s former team, Illinois State. And Oakland dropped a rare decision in the O’Rena in its CIT opener against Eastern Illinois, 97-91.

The Viking men also outpaced the women, who played in the first round of the WNIT at the same time as their male counterparts, losing to Michigan, 72-50. The CSU women’s basketball team finished its season at 19-13 and saw its three seniors, Cori Coleman, Imani Gordon and Kiersten Green, score more than 1,000 points each for their careers, a Cleveland State first.

For the men, the CIT continues on Monday, when they travel to Newark to play the New Jersey Institute of Technology, who hold the distinction of being the only Division I school without a conference and going into Crisler Arena and beating the Wolverines earlier in the season.

Cleveland State Sweeps Green Bay in Huge Overtime Win

Welcome to Championship Mode.

Friday was one of those games in the past that made Cleveland State fans fill with a heaping helping of dread the last few years. That was mostly because of the fact that the Vikings have faltered multiple times in a big game with a nationally-televised audience, this time on ESPN2.

Add to that the fact that Wisconsin-Green Bay has been invincible at home this season at 12-0 and hadn’t lost in the Resch Center since February 8, 2014. Moreover, the Phoenix, who were drop-kicked by the Vikings in Cleveland, were out for revenge. Finally, CSU hadn’t won in Green Bay since 2010, and there were plenty of good Viking squads that have tried to get a victory there and come up short.

Cleveland State knew all of this going in. And still won in overtime, 66-61.

It took everything the Vikings could dish out: Anton Grady putting up another double-double, Trey Lewis turning it on in overtime…

…and a completely bonkers 31-foot shot by Charlie Lee as the shot clock wound down that made SportCenter’s Top 10 Plays.

You know. This one.

It’s the type of game that gets everyone paying attention, even as the Cavs were on the air at the same time pasting the Wizards. Actually, it seems like a pretty nice good-luck charm to have CSU and the Cavaliers playing on the same day. Both teams have won on the six days when that has happened this season.

And the game came after one of the rare occasions when a game had to be canceled. Earlier this week, the Vikings were supposed to head to Western Carolina to play the Catamounts. But the horrendous weather resulted in CSU’s travel plans getting cut off, as no plane or bus could get through the wintry mess.

So, instead of head coach Gary Waters trying to figure out how to rotate his players for an oddball non-conference game so that they wouldn’t be worn out for the critical match-up in Green Bay, he caught a break. More importantly, so did his team.

And it was a good thing, too. Out of the 45 minutes played on Friday night, Lee played all 45, Lewis played 44 and Grady played 43. Add to that Marlin Mason putting in 36 minutes and Kaza Keane, who had the distinction of guarding Phoenix dynamo Keifer Sykes, notched 35 minutes.

The win over Green Bay also provided everyone with yet another example of how Grady has become one of the best players in the Horizon League, finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds, marking the seventh time he has done that in league play. Yes, in 14 conference games, Grady has a double-double in half of them.

Nothing about the victory was easy for Cleveland State. The Vikings had to contend with the Phoenix defense which, impressively enough, has been better than CSU’s this season, only allowing 60.6 points per game, compare to Cleveland State’s 61.6. Because of that, Green Bay was able to do something no other team has been able to do to the Vikings all season: Cause turnovers.

The first half turned out to be one of Cleveland State’s worst of the year when it came to handling the ball, coughing it up 10 times. Needless to say, Waters, who has been on record multiple times with his loathing of turnovers, had to have been beside himself.

It also looked like the Phoenix finally had turned the Vikings away late in the second half, when Sykes and Greg Mays nailed back-to-back three-pointers to give Green Bay its largest lead of the game at 50-44 with five minutes left in the game. Cleveland State, who was in the midst of a five-minute scoring drought, looked as if it was over.

Then came a healthy dose of Grady and Lewis, who scored eight points in tandem, and that insane Lee three-pointer with 1:18 left to give Cleveland State the lead. In the extra frame, the Vikings turned on the defense, holding the Phoenix to a pair of field goal, a Mays dunk and a Sykes lay-up when the win was already sealed.

Cleveland State’s huge victory over Green Bay capped off a good week, which started on Sunday with another conference win at the Wolstein Center. This time, it was against an Illinois-Chicago team that had previously knocked off Detroit, who beat the Vikings last Friday, and injury-riddled Wright State.

With a little momentum, the Flames, featuring a completely different lineup than the one that lost to Cleveland State in January, didn’t make it easy on the Vikings. In fact, with a 34-30 lead at halftime, UIC wanted to prove it was no longer one of the doormats of the Horizon League.

Cleveland State was having none of that, though, clamping down on defense while Lewis and Mason went to work. While Grady missed another double-double by a point, he still grabbed 13 boards. Lewis once again led all players with 18 points, while Mason chipped in 11, including a monstrous alley-oop dunk off a pass from Lee.

With the wins, the Vikings remain in control of their own destiny in the Horizon League with a chance to finish at the top of the conference and, as a result, host the Horizon League Tournament. But they will have to stay in Championship Mode for two more games.

First, there is the tail-end of the notorious Wisconsin Trip on Sunday, when Cleveland State travels to Milwaukee to play the Panthers, who has been very good at home as of late and game Valparaiso all it could handle before eventually falling.

Should the Vikings win, that would set up a potential winner-take-all contest in Cleveland against the Crusaders next Friday in a 10:00pm tilt on ESPNU. Prior to that, Viketoberfest, a craft beer event that is probably one of the more inventive promotions at the Wolstein Center this season.

Cleveland State Completes the Home Sweep, Beating Wright State and Youngstown State

Every time this season, it seems, Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters makes mention of the fact that people should judge his squad more when it’s crunch time. With less than a month left in the season, the Vikings are certainly in that timeframe now.

To start the critical month of February off, Cleveland State completed its three-game homestand against the other two Ohio teams in the Horizon League, Wright State and Youngstown State, in return contests from earlier road wins this season.

A lot has changed with the Raiders team since the Vikings beat them a month ago at the Nutter Center. They’ve lost key contributor Kendall Griffin, who was forced to announce his retirement due to multiple concussions. They have also have had JT Yoho and Steven Davis hobbled with injuries. This has caused Wright State’s wheels to fall off the bus.

For the Penguins, well, there weren’t any wheels to fall off the bus. It was pretty much wheel-less to begin the conference schedule. And with a 1-9 record going into the game at the Wolstein Center, it’s basically been a disaster of a season.

Cleveland State used hot shooting in the first half, hitting 66 percent of its shots, and besting the Raider frontcourt, forcing them into early foul trouble. The Vikings also withstood a Wright State hot streak in the second half, getting 27 points from Charlie Lee and 22 points from Anton Grady to take the win, 88-72.

“This was an interesting game,” said coach Gary Waters.  “Very interesting. My hats off to Wright State because they tried some things out there, and running five guards and all that. It’s hard to guard. You don’t want to go away from what you do, even though they put all that out there.  But at one point, we had to go away from what we do, just to make sure we keep these guys in front of us.”

As for Youngstown State, it was almost a repeat of the game in Youngstown, with Grady recording his sixth double-double of the season to win, 73-60. It also marked the game in which both Lee and Grady entered the Cleveland State record books, each scoring their 1,000th point in their careers.

With the win against the Raiders, the Vikings once again find themselves temporarily in first place in the Horizon League at 9-2, with Valparaiso and Green Bay a half-game out.

“It’s really big, because at the beginning of the year our goal was to make sure we go undefeated at home in conference play,” Grady said of winning at the Wolstein Center providing momentum down the stretch. “So we’ve been taking care of that. So now we’ve got to go on the road and we have to win a big game at Detroit that we have to focus on and have the right mindset.”

In the first half, Cleveland State came out scorching from the field, making 10 out of 11 at one stretch. At the same time, Wright State found itself with foul trouble for its two remaining big men, Roderick Davis and Michael Karena, leaving the Raiders without a player over 6-4.

That didn’t seem to deter Wright State, though, as it whittled away a 12-point Viking advantage to cut it to 26-20 with 6:01 left in the half and Anton Grady found himself with foul issues. Then came Lewis, who came in and scored four quick points to put Cleveland State up back by double digits.

When Lewis went out of the game with two fouls, it didn’t seem to make much of a different. Cleveland State got a pair of three-pointers from Lee and Yates to push the Viking advantage to 44-33 at halftime. For the close of the first half, oddly enough, there were only guards on the floor, and, of course, Cleveland State showed off the backcourt depth that provided some relief while Yates and Terrelle Hales were limited with ankle injuries.

That hot shooting that got the Vikings going in the first half went away, as Wright State cut the lead back down to single digits at 56-50 with a Grant Bezinger three-pointer with 13:34 left in the game. But then Grady went to work on the inside, pushing Cleveland State back up, 61-50 with five straight points.

But the Raiders just wouldn’t go away, trimming the lead back down to 61-57 with a Joe Thomasson trey. Then the game went back to the guards again, with Karena and Grady both picking up their fourth foul each.

That’s where Cleveland State pulled away, getting key free throws from Lee and Mason, to put the Vikings back up, 81-68 with 3:53 left in the game. Then Cleveland State put the clamps on defense, holding Wright State scoreless to preserve the win.

Lee and Grady were two of four Vikings in double figures. Lewis, despite only shooting 1-for-6 from the three-point arc, was much better from the rest of the field and finished with 15 points.

The win against the Penguins saw something in the first half that is rarely seen in college basketball: Extended time without a timeout. That’s exactly how the first eight minutes of the contest shook out, when Youngstown State was forced to take a timeout with 11:42 left in the first half. From there, Waters felt that Penguin big man Bobby Hain wouldn’t have the legs to go toe-to-toe with Grady.

He was right. Hain was held to 12 points, while Grady finished with 17 points and 13 boards.

Cleveland State Uses Defense to Upset Green Bay

There’s always a game Cleveland State has marked on the calendar as the top match-up of the season. And for the second year in a row, that the home game at the Wolstein Center against Wisconsin-Green Bay. Last year, missing their top scorer Bryn Forbes due to an illness, the Vikings struggled against a Phoenix squad that featured Alec Brown and Keifer Sykes.

For the second year in a row, the illness bug has stricken Cleveland State again. This time, it was Marlin Mason, who missed his third straight game with a virus. The Vikings also had starting guard Andre Yates only at 50 percent.

In order to beat a Green Bay team that was picked to finish first in the Horizon League, Cleveland State needed to start out quickly and certainly keep Sykes at bay.

Mission accomplished.

The Vikings held the lead on the Phoenix for the vast majority of the game, and weathered a Green Bay run at the start of the second half to get a huge win at home, 76-62. The win pulls CSU back even at the top of the Horizon League standings with Valparaiso, who survived a scare against Illinois-Chicago.

“I thought our energy level was high from the very beginning,” said head coach Gary Waters. “And we talked about that in the locker room. We said this is our house. We have a chance to be in first place in this league, and what we have to do is control our house. And I think that’s what we did today.”

As has been the case for most of their victories this season, Cleveland State was paced by its top three players, Trey Lewis, Charlie Lee and Anton Grady. This time, however, the memory of being overpowered last year was fresh in their minds, and they were looking for some payback.

“This was a huge game for us,” Lewis said. “I was telling Anton (Grady) right before the game started, ‘You remember what happened last year,’ and that was our mindset coming into this game. They dominated us last year, and we came out with the mindset that we would dominate this year.”

For the first 20 minutes, the Vikings swarmed on defense. The Phoenix coughed up the ball nine times, leading to 14 Cleveland State points. Moreover, Sykes was limited to only two first-half points, being spotted quite effectively by Yates’ replacement in the lineup, Kaza Keane. Also not helping was that Sykes committed his second foul with six minutes left in the half, leaving him to sit on the bench until the closing seconds.

Defense, as it has been all season, played a huge part of the early Viking advantage. Cleveland State rendered Green Bay scoreless for five minutes, which allowed the Vikings to pull out to a 27-11 lead. Even at the end of the first half when Cleveland State only hit two out of 10 field goals, the Phoenix were only able to cut the lead down to 11 at halftime.

In the second half, though Green Bay showed why it was picked to finish at the top of the Horizon League standings, going on a 6-0 run. Lewis then turned around with a three-pointer. Then Waters brought Yates in to take over for Keane, who committed his third foul, and clamped down on defense.

Lewis finished the game with a double-double, notching 25 points and 12 rebounds. Grady fell short of a double-double, but still made his presence known in the paint with 24 points and six boards. Lee played every part of the role of distributor, with seven assists to go along with 12 points.

The win was also in front of one of the largest crowds of the season, with 3,525 people coming to watch the Viking performance. While it doesn’t put them over the Boyd Line (The 1,770 per game average set in 1995-96), the win does give Cleveland State fans some incentive to put the team over that average.

“This was a big crowd game,” Water said of the attendance versus the Phoenix. “And when people come out to see you, you need to give them a good performance. And that gives them the idea that they should come back and watch some more, and I thought we did a great job of that today.”

Mason’s Outlook Looking Better

The virus that has been causing Mason to sit out three games may finally be subsiding. Waters said that Mason underwent a second spinal tap late in the week, and it appears that he is feeling much better. Waters is confident that Mason will return for next week’s games at home against Youngstown State and Wright State.

O’No! A Bump in the Road!

The Cleveland State-Green Bay match-up would have meant much more to the Vikings, had it not been for a trip earlier in the week to Oakland for a return contest with the Golden Grizzlies. The O’rena, as it turns out, has become the toughest place to play in the Horizon League by far. Just ask the Phoenix and Valparaiso.

And despite coming back from being down double digits, Cleveland State couldn’t overcome it, and a Lewis three-pointer that fell just short sealed the game for Oakland, 59-56. As was the case in the 65-61 win at the Wolstein Center, Lewis was constantly harassed by Golden Grizzlies defensive specialist Dante Williams, and was limited to just five points.

Foul trouble also reared its ugly head in the loss, as the Vikings spent much of the first half without Grady and Zollo, who committed two fouls in the opening 75 seconds of the game. In total, Oakland ended up taking advantage by getting to the foul line an astonishing 28 times, compared to just seven for Cleveland State.

While the Golden Grizzlies have enjoyed a free throw advantage for most of their home wins (Green Bay being the exception), it was the Viking scoring droughts that proved to be their ultimate undoing. And in spite of shooting 44 percent from the floor, Cleveland State misfired badly from beyond the arc, shooting just 4-of-14 for a dismal 28 percent.

With the Vikings defeat, Oakland has now defeated the top three teams in the conference, as well as Wright State and Milwaukee. Unless Horizon League bottom-feeders Youngstown State or Illinois-Chicago somehow fluke their way into a win, which is highly unlikely, the February 15th game against Detroit will determine whether the Golden Grizzlies will sport perfect record in the O’rena.

That’s Right. Cleveland State Is on a Winning Streak.

“OK, we won a game yesterday. If we win today, it’s called two in a row. And if we win again tomorrow, it’s called a ‘winning streak’… It has happened before!”

– Lou Brown, “Major League II”

As Cleveland sports fans, we all love our movie references, no matter how obscure. And in a sense, the above quote from everybody’s favorite fictional Indians manager should have struck a chord in Cleveland State fans everywhere. That’s because going into the Horizon League schedule, a winning streak seemed to be a foreign concept to the Vikings.

In fact, to find a stretch of Cleveland State basketball where the program couldn’t string together three straight wins, you’d have to go back to the tenure of Mike Garland. All of it. Seriously, Garland’s teams never won three in a row, ever, in the entire three seasons he was here.

Going into the conference, it was starting to look as if the same fate was going to befall Gary Waters’ squad as well. Even worse, CSU hadn’t won back-to-back games against Division I schools during the non-conference schedule, let alone three.

Then the Vikings flipped the switch.

As fans have witnessed on many occasions during the Waters era, Cleveland State’s out-of-conference results, which could be viewed as so-so at best, may have actually prepared the team for its Horizon League foes after all. Skepticism among fans naturally set in, even after pasting Milwaukee by 27 points at the Wolstein Center.

But this week saw the Vikings best Illinois-Chicago and Oakland, which now puts them at 3-0 in the conference.

Naturally, either game could have been a trap for Cleveland State. Fans can certainly point to Savannah State and Eastern Illinois as proof of that this season. Plus the Flames with their win against Youngstown State and the Golden Grizzlies’ surprise of Valparaiso provided obvious cause for concern.

And yet, the Vikings used their trademark defense and timely scoring, something that hadn’t happened much this season, to fend off late-game runs by both foes, besting UIC in Sunday’s contest, 74-69, and Oakland at home on Thursday, 65-61.

With a perfect record in the Horizon League, Cleveland State now faces its toughest test against the Crusaders on Saturday night. Valpo overcame the loss of Keith Carter for an undetermined amount of time due to a dislocated toe to dismantle the Flames at home, 85-56. With the Vikings and Crusaders picked second and third in the pre-season poll, respectively, the contest at the ARC, though considerably early in the conference slate, will serve as a test on who is truly the better team to this point.

For Valparaiso’s part, the non-conference schedule, unlike Cleveland State’s, proved to be much more successful, with 13 wins against only two losses to Missouri and New Mexico. The Vikings will need to replicate its fast starts this week and keep the Crusader frontcourt in check, much as they did last year.

Anton Grady’s Back-Up Will Be…

There appears to be a competition as to who will come in to spell Cleveland State’s top frontcourt player, especially in the event he finds himself in foul trouble, a situation that was more common than not early on this year.

It appeared that this role would go to Aaron Scales, who received the bulk of playing time against Virginia Commonwealth and in the Horizon League opener versus Milwaukee. On the road against UIC, though, there was no debate about playing time at all, with Grady notching a season-high 36 minutes that results in his first double-double this year.

Against Oakland, though, Scales didn’t see the floor at all, ceding his minutes as Grady’s back-up to fellow sophomore Demonte Flannigan. For his part, Flannigan took advantage of every second of his 16 minutes, scoring eight points and pulling down four boards.

The debate on who will be Grady’s back-up will likely remain fluid for the remainder of the season. That’s mostly because Scales and Flannigan clearly bring two different styles to the Viking frontcourt, and Waters will call upon one or the other, depending on who they will be facing at the time. For the game against Valpo, with 6-10 Vashil Fernandez in the middle, it’s a pretty good bet that the much-bigger Scales will get the nod over Flannigan.

But then again, if Grady stays out of foul trouble and bests the Crusader big man as he did last year, there may not be any debate at all.

No Trey Lewis? No Problem.

CSU’s victory over Oakland was made even more amazing by the fact that the leading scorer for the Vikings, Trey Lewis, was held scoreless. In fact, Lewis only attempted two shots the entire game. To be fair, the Golden Grizzlies did have the 6-6 Dante Williams, their main stopper, defending him.

But what Lewis lacked in scoring he more than made up for in creating offense in other ways, notching five assists. It also gave Cleveland State the opportunity to figure out who would else would be able to score.

The answer turned out to be Lewis’ partner in the backcourt, Charlie Lee, which scored 13 and dished out seven assists. And it was also Andre Yates, the defensive leader of the team (a well-defended title, of course). He led the team with 14 points in 22 minutes.

The X-Factor – Marlin Mason

In the beginning of the season, Waters believed that the 6-6 senior would be the X-factor for the Vikings having a successful season. His performance, though, has been all over the place, and at some points was non-existent on offense, as was the case against Milwaukee.

Going into the conference schedule, though, Mason seems to have found his place as a shot blocker. He swatted away four shots against UIC and followed that up with three more blocks against Oakland. He also, in the two wins this week, quietly chipped in offensively, scoring 12 against the Flames and 11 versus the Golden Grizzlies.

Moving forward, Mason will need to be the X-factor that Waters is looking for, as opposed a scene from the X Factor television show in which Simon Cowell brusquely says to a contestant, “That’s going to be a no for me.”

Cleveland State’s Bumpy Non-Conference Ride

Originally, I planned to take this week off to hang out with family out of town. But it just seems like the Cleveland State men’s basketball team doesn’t want anyone to feel at ease these days.

You would have thought the Vikings had turned a much-needed corner on Sunday. While once again the rest of Northeast Ohio watched the Browns quarterback carousel move once again, CSU was actually able to get a pretty good win at the Wolstein Center against San Francisco.

But, of course, when anyone had an air of confidence about Cleveland State, the team turns around and does something that defies explanation.

The latest act of inexplicable frustration took place during the Tuesday matinee against Eastern Illinois. It seemed as if the Vikings had this game well in hand over the Panthers. But once again, Cleveland State proved that no lead or grasp on sanity is safe, and fell, 67-65.

So, instead of finally getting two wins in a row against Division I opponents and actually being above .500, the Vikings are 6-7. And they have Virginia Commonwealth to look forward to.

Head coach Gary Waters can’t seem to get a grasp on what the problem is, especially the now-trademark scoring droughts.

“That has been us all year,” Waters said about the scoring funks. “When I look at [the stat sheet], I see missed jumpers, turnovers and we didn’t execute down the stretch.”

The inconsistency has really taken its toll on everyone, especially any casual fan that might have the slightest bit of curiosity about what’s going on at the Wolstein Center. In a town that only seems to pay attention to winners, the Browns and LeBron James, wading through mediocrity against teams nobody has any idea who are isn’t cutting it.

Even the hardest of the diehards have found it hard to stick with the Vikings, especially given the other sporting distractions around town.

A Tale of Two Gradys

The overtime win against USF was supposed to mark a turning-point game for Anton Grady. Being plagued with foul trouble and spotty play in the paint, Grady finally seemed to emerge as the inside scoring option Cleveland State desperately needs. He finished with 17 points, with 13 coming in the second half and OT. He also grabbed seven rebounds and stole the ball three times in a season-high 42 minutes, all without a hint of foul trouble.

Against Eastern Illinois, Grady seemed to have his way for most of the first half, and scored 14 points, as well as grabbing seven boards and three steals.

But as it has been for much of the non-conference schedule, Grady’s old nemesis, foul trouble, reared its ugly head. And with four fouls at the end of the game, Grady was forced to sit out during key defensive stretches.

Speaking Of Which…

Head coach Gary Waters went with Aaron Scales to face off against EIU’s Chris Oliver while Grady was on the bench. The idea, as many believed, was that Scales, who had fouls to give, would force Oliver to get his points at the free throw line, where he has struggled.

Apparently the only person who didn’t think this was a good idea was Scales, who defended Oliver straight-up. The result was four points by Oliver and an incensed Waters on the bench.

Remember when fans hoped that the year Scales spend as a red-shirt would help him develop into a more prominent role in the Cleveland State frontcourt? Neither do I.

A Three-Point Shot at the End of the Game? What Could Go Wrong There?

In the closing seconds of the CSU-Eastern Illinois game, the Vikings were able to get the ball back being only down two. On the previous play on the offensive side, Trey Lewis, in a rare lapse, coughed up the ball that thankfully led to a Panther miss on the front end of a one-and-one free throw try.

But as Charlie Lee drove to the baseline, he kicked the ball out to Andre Yates in the corner for a three-point try, and it went about as you’d expect for a team that Waters himself said wasn’t as good from beyond the arc as last season. Yates’ triple try hit long, sealing the game for the Panthers.

Understandably, with an opportunity to try and win the game without having to go into overtime, which Cleveland State had to do against San Francisco, you take it. But while Yates is clearly the defensive leader of this team, he’s not the most effective from the three-point line at 31.8 percent.

Obviously, the best plan would have been for either Lee or Lewis to be the shooter in that situation. Of course, an even better plan would have been to not be faced with that type of situation in the first place.

Keane’s New Role as Sixth Man

At the start of the season, with Lee suspended, Waters turned to new transfer Kaza Keane to fill the starting role, which meant more adjusting that Waters may have wanted to have his new player do in the early going. And aside from a SportsCenter-worthy heave-ho at the end of the first half of the Jacksonville State game, Keane had his struggles.

But now that he has acclimated himself to a role as a bench player upon Lee’s return, the junior from Ajax, Ontario has provided a boost to the rotation. In fact, he is usually the first or second player off the bench and still averages 23.6 minutes a game. With so many guards competing for playing time, it appears that Keane has the upper hand.

The Cleveland State Tweet-Up and the Offensive Outage vs. Toledo

On Wednesday, Cleveland State came home after two weeks on the road that was just all over the place to play a Toledo squad that had already lost to two games to Horizon League teams and looked a lot less like a team that was picked to win the Mid-American Conference.

This was also the night of the #GoVikes Tweet-Up, which was set up to have everyone from the media, students and Cleveland State Athletics get into the game on Twitter.

Unfortunately, the game itself was, until the very end, one of the worst performances by the Vikings in several seasons. The Rockets were dominant on the glass and on defense and were up by as many as 18 at one point. Despite a late-game surge, Cleveland State fell, 59-54.

On the plus side, as least nobody added “and take [insert bad Cleveland team here] with you” to the hashtag.

The Return of Charlie Lee (Just Not Starting)

The Toledo game marked the first contest that the senior point guard played coming off of his six-game suspension. But while he came back to the rotation, it wasn’t in his normal starting role. Instead Kaza Keane got the start, with Lee coming off the bench.

And in the first half, Lee, like every other Viking, came out shooting blanks, going 0-for-4 from the field. He finally got his first points with a three-pointer, but made some odd unforced errors. He did eventually get it going near the end of the game, hitting from beyond the arc to keep CSU close.

In the short-term, however, head coach Gary Waters plans to use Lee as a bench option, as he re-acclimates himself.

No More Threes, Please

It’s amazing what a difference a year makes. Last season, Cleveland State was one of the most prolific three-point shooting teams in the country. But with the transfer of Bryn Forbes and Jon Harris’ graduation, the fire from beyond the arc has been completely snuffed out.

Waters was especially agitated with the fact that the Vikings kept trying to make the three-point shot work throughout the first half Wednesday, entering halftime with hitting the trey a cringe-worthy 14 percent.

“You can’t shoot 14 threes and expect to win, unless you’re a pure-shooting team,” Waters said. “We are not a three-point shooting team.”

Grady’s Woes Continue

It’s no secret that Grady has found himself more often than not in foul trouble early on in contests. Wednesday’s tilt versus the Rockets was no different. This time, however, he played one of those games that anyone would rather forget.

This was capped early in the second half, when Grady got his shot blocked, then committed a foul on Julius Brown after he sank a three-pointer. Soon after, Grady was charged with his fourth foul and had to sit. And despite a dunk in Cleveland State’s late-game rally, Grady was once again neutralized, as fact that did not sit well with Waters.

“Anton Grady can’t be playing just 15 minutes a game,” said Waters. “That is killing us every time that happens. We’ve got to keep him on the floor so we have a middle presence.”

Not helping matters is the Vikings’ general lack of an inside presence, which was thought to have been bolstered by the return of Aaron Scales, Demonte Flannigan and the arrival of Vinny Zollo. While Flannigan and, more recently, Scales have showed some flashes of promise, they both remain a bit underdeveloped to fully assume the role in the middle. And Zollo has been a non-factor early.

That leaves Waters little option but to keep going with Grady in the middle, which likely means more games in which he’s undersized compared to his competition and the greater the risk of early foul trouble.

The Pep Band Claims Victory

In previous columns, I have expressed my concern for the Cleveland State pep band as they have, in recent years, competed and lost against the arena PA systems and, most recently, newcomer MJ the DJ.

But during one of the media timeouts in the second half, the pep band got one back. The PA system that the CSU dance team uses for its routines went out, leading to a rather awkward a capella performance for a moment. That’s when the pep band came through with its rendition of the Cupid Shuffle. And everything was back in balance, at least for a spell.

The Boyd Line Watch

In spite of the re-appearance of a student section, thanks to the Viking Village program, attendance during the first three games of the season have been the lowest in the Waters era, sitting at 1,470 per game. If things don’t shape up, the 2014-15 team may set the record for the lowest attendance  in the history of the Wolstein Center set in 1995-96, the last year of Mike Boyd’s tenure as head coach. The mark of 1,770 fans a game achieved that season can also be considered the Boyd Line.

What’s odd about this is that it’s not like 2014-15 team is anywhere near as abysmal as the 1995-96 squad that finished 5-21. At 3-4, the Vikings are, at worst, wallowing in the type of mediocrity that would have been considered a vast improvement over the years and, at best, a team that will eventually get it together when the conference schedule rolls around.

Regardless, as mentioned on more than one occasion here, winning just isn’t enough in a town that clearly champions its professional teams and a college two hours away. And a sub-.500 record cuts it even less.

Western Illinois and Getting Swallowed Whole

Sunday’s home game against the Leathernecks has the distinct honor of being schedule at one of the most inopportune times of the year: At 1:00pm. Naturally, the men’s and women’s basketball double-header runs head-long into a home Browns game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Clearly the thought process here was that on the first week of December, the Browns would be well out of playoff contention and that maybe the Vikings could draw some attention away. Even if that were the case, which surprisingly it isn’t, Cleveland is, and will always be, a football town. This means that whatever attention CSU hoped to get out of this home contest will just not happen.

What’s especially maddening to fans is that Western Illinois played on Thursday at Akron. Conventional wisdom would have dictated that Saturday would have made more sense. The only logical explanation would have been the women’s opponent, Kent State, would be the reason for this. But the Flashes last played on Wednesday.

In other words, this schedule move, like others, defies any kind of explanation. And no, “Scheduling is hard” is not a valid answer here.