Tag Archives: Charlie Lee

Catching Up with Ex-Cleveland State Players Overseas

While it has been rare that CSU has had somebody picked in the NBA Draft, it has been a fairly regular occurrence that Cleveland State players have found post-college homes either in minor leagues here or playing professionally overseas.

The most recent examples of this are Charlie Lee and Jon Harris. For Lee, whose senior year was riddled

Vikings Charlie Lee (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Vikings Charlie Lee (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

with suspensions that include the final game of the season, he has found his way to Scandanavia. It was announced that the 5-8 point guard will be playing for Tromso Storm in Norway’s top-tier BLNO league.

Harris, on the other hand, will be spending his basketball season a little further south in Europe. After a an ankle injury cut short his stint with Gimnasia Esgrima in Argentina’s Liga A, Harris, who finished his college career with the Vikings, will be heading the Germany to play with Chemnitz. While he will start in the second-tier Pro A league, there may be opportunities to move up to the upper echelon Bundesliga Basketball (BBL) as the season wears on.

As two recent Cleveland State players get started on their pro careers overseas, several others are well into theirs.

The most prominent Viking has been Cedric Jackson, who has established himself as a national celebrity in New Zealand. After becoming the first Cleveland State player in nearly two decades to be signed with an NBA team, he spent two seasons in the D-League before finding his way overseas.

His big break came in the 2011-12 with the New Zealand Breakers in the Australian NBL. When he has been on the court, the Breakers have been virtually unstoppable, winning league championships in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Despite playing elsewhere, including an injury-riddle season in Slovenia and spots on several NBA Summer League teams, Jackson has always seemed to find his way back to New Zealand, where he is back to help the Breakers defend their title.

And if you remember Jackson’s heave at the end of the CSU-Syracuse game at the buzzer that won the game for the Vikings, he has the rare distinction of having repeated that feat. It happened at the end of a double-overtime contest against Perth in February 2015. While it was a little closer than the Syracuse shot, it was the same result, winning the game for the Breakers.

While Jackson has clearly found a home in New Zealand, his teammate, J’Nathan Bullock, has played all over the world. After being cut by the New York Jets, Bullock, like Jackson, found his way Down Under, playing for the Geelong Supercats in the second-tier South East Australian Basketball League.

After Geelong, Bullock signed to play with Optima Gent, but ultimately left with an injury. He played in Iceland for Grindavik, where he won numerous accolades including Player of the Year, en route to a championship in 2012. After that, he was in Finland, played briefly with the Main Red Claws of the D-League and spent a season in, of all places, Iraq.

This past season, Bullock went back to Finland to play for Pyrinto in the top-flight Korisliiga. In 13 games games, he score 15.6 points per contest and pulled down five rebounds for a squad who finished in the middle of the league standings at 20-20.

In France, two former CSU teammates are still currently competing, only now against each other. In that country’s lower NM2 division, former Viking center Pape Badiane and point guard Modibo Niakate are still playing at St. Clement and Le Puy, respectively.

But the longest-playing ex-Cleveland State player overseas happens to be the one who probably spent the least time with the team. Giuseppe “Pino” Romano, who appeared in a handful of games during Mike Boyd’s last season as coach in 1995-96, is still very active and has been with Fondi in Italy’s Serie B league since 2009. This past year, the 42-year old was second on the team in scoring, averaging nearly 14 points per game.

While it’s not clear if Romano will be back playing with the team for the upcoming season, he’s listed as the club’s President, so he certainly has something to do after retirement.

Even though most players are overseas, there is one ex-Viking who is, in fact, a Globetrotter. That would be former point guard Carlos English. Dizzy, as he’s called, spent three seasons with various D-League teams before making the Globetrotter’s rookie class in 2015.

And yes, the Globetrotters will travel Europe during the 2015-16 season, so there’s a good chance English will run into a couple of his former teammates.

Women’s Soccer and Volleyball Start Off Hot, Split Pair With Akron

The CSU women’s soccer and volleyball teams have certainly raised a few eyebrows in the early going. For the soccer team, they followed up a 1-1 tie against Butler and a 7-0 romp over Chicago State with wins at Eastern Kentucky and Ohio.

For the volleyball squad, they opened the season at the Middle Tennessee Invitational, vanquishing the host school, then notching big wins over Indiana and Notre Dame before falling to Bowling Green in five sets.

On Tuesday, both teams found themselves in the exact same place – the University of Akron. They split their games, with volleyball taking the Zips in four sets, while women’s soccer dropped their first decision of the season in a 4-2 loss.

The volleyball team returns home this weekend to play Central Michigan, Binghampton and Cincinnati in the CSU Invitational. Women’s soccer, on the other hand, will stay on the road, traveling to Olean, New York to battle Cornell and St. Bonaventure in the Alumni Classic.

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.”

Unbeknownst to Cleveland, Cleveland State Beat Western Illinois

While the rest of Northeast Ohio languished in what could likely signal the end of the Brian Hoyer era in Cleveland and beginning of Johnny Manziel’s, 1,187 fans came to the Wolstein Center to watch Cleveland State thoroughly manhandle Western Illinois, 76-54.

And as bad as the Vikings had been offensively in their previous game against Toledo, they played one of their best games against the Leathernecks, shooting 48 percent from the field and, more importantly, staying out of the kind of foul trouble that has plagued them so far this season.

The win on Sunday was just one of several events that took play across Cleveland State athletics, including a trip by members of the men’s and women’s swimming teams to one of the biggest events in the country.

Limiting Shots Beyond the Arc

After the loss to Toledo, head coach Gary Waters was adamant about keeping his team from chucking up the long ball at will. As a result, he has apparently put a cap on the number of three-pointers that can be shot in a game to 15 and only wants four players to shoot.

The strategy worked on Sunday, though the Vikings did shoot one over their limit. It didn’t matter, though, since they shot a scorching 9-for-16 from beyond the arc. And while it was reported that Trey Lewis, Charlie Lee, Marlin Mason and Vinny Zollo would be the four, that didn’t stop Andre Yates from shooting and making three treys. It looks as if that fourth spot on the shooting list might be a floating position.

The Defense Is Always There

As has been the case for most of the season, Cleveland State has been dominant on defense. Sunday’s romp over Western Illinois was no exception. The Vikings’ signature pressure forced the Leathernecks to cough up the ball 21 times, which resulted in 34 CSU points. This included four steals compliments of Yates, who has quickly become the defensive leader on this team.

Lee’s Short Bench Stint

Even though Waters has originally planned to have Lee come off the bench until he got back into the swing of things, he opted to put Lee in the starting lineup against the Leathernecks. In 27 minutes, he tallied seven points, two assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals.

While Lee will need to make adjustments, his role as the leader on the floor is essential if the Vikings have any shot as they enter the conference schedule.

The Fight for Minutes at Guard

Waters opted to go very deep in his bench in the early going of Sunday’s game, which made sense, considering that CSU pulled far ahead of Western Illinois from the outset. The competition for minutes among the guards, though, remains heated.

Kaza Keane, who started in place of Lee during his suspension, is now fighting for playing time, and made his presence known on Sunday with seven points in 13 minutes. Terrelle Hales continues to be a defensive spark for the Vikings, putting in a bench-high 17 minutes.

With Keane, Hales, Kenny Carpenter and Derek Sloan available, there will be those games in which some of them won’t play. That will be especially true if the starters are needed for extended periods. In order to prove their worth, the guards will have to remain ready, both offensively and defensively, to make a case for playing time.

Next Week: The S’more Schedule

With finals over, the Vikings will have three games which can only be described as a s’more, which is to say two graham cracker-hard opponents on each side and one gigantic marshmallow in the middle.

The first graham cracker comes in the form of a visit to the Stroh Center to face Bowling Green. The Falcons are 5-2 thus far, and are a perfect 3-0 at home. They’ve also bested two other Horizon League teams, Wright State and Detroit, which the win over the Titans coming on the road at Calihan Hall.

On Thursday, Cleveland State travels to Virginia, ranked sixth in the AP Top 25 and fifth in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll. The Cavaliers have been dominant in the early going, and recently put an end to Virginia Commonwealth’s home winning streak in convincing fashion. As tough a contest as Louisville was for the Vikings, this game will prove to be just as tough.

The gigantic marshmallow, of course, is Monday’s game against Mt. Vernon Nazarene, an NAIA school in central Ohio. This will probably be one of those tilts in which Waters plays his bench for extended periods of time to see what he will have ready for Thursday.

Women’s Basketball Perfect in Home Stand (So Far)

While life on the road has been rather rough on the Cleveland State women’s basketball team, sporting only a 1-3 record in those contests, the Vikings have been able to hold serve at home. It hasn’t been easy, though. In the first two games of a four-game home stand, CSU has had to fend off East Carolina and Kent State, coming out winners both times by a two-point margin in each.

As has been the case this season, the Vikings have been paced by its core of seniors, including Cori Coleman and Imani Gordon, who scored 21 and 15 points, respectively, in both games of the home stand.  Fellow senior Kiersten Green was also a big part of the victory against Kent State, chipping in 22 points.

Next week, Cleveland State wraps up its home stand with a 2:00pm matinee against Belmont at Woodling Gym on Tuesday, and heading back to the Wolstein Center for a rare morning game at 11:00am against Niagara.

Sikatzki Goes National

With a break in its schedule, CSU sent five swimmers, Phillipp Sikatzki, Adam Ingeldew, Phillip Brittain, Gage Alleman and Madison Tretter, to Greensboro, North Carolina for one of the biggest competitions of the fall, the USA Winter Nationals.

While most of the Viking contingency were not able to post times to qualify for the finals, Sikatzki, the transfer from Division II Ashland, made his presence known in the 100-meter butterfly event. Qualifying for the finals in that event, he swam a time of 47.59, which was good enough for 12th place.

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.

There Goes Charlie Lee’s November

The season that started out with a great deal of promise for Cleveland State lasted from the Horizon League’s Media Day to a day before the regular season opener at Iona. In other words, that would be about five weeks.

Senior point guard Charlie Lee, who, along with Trey Lewis, was poised to be part of one of the best backcourt duos in the conference, will be sitting out the first six games of the Viking’s opening slate, according to CSU sports information director Greg Murphy. He has been suspended for what Cleveland State is calling a violation of team rules.

In addition to the opening road tilt against the Gaels, Lee will miss the remainder of the games scheduled in the month of November. This includes all contests that will be part of the Global Sports Showcase, which means that he won’t be playing at all when the Vikings go up against both Marshall and, more significantly, Louisville.

Many fans had hoped that Lee’s absence during the exhibition win against Malone was a just a one-time deal, and that he would be back in the starting lineup as soon as the 2014-15 season began. Now, fans are looking at what could be a very long start to the year.

Without Charlie Lee, the backcourt that was already trying to adjust to the departures of Sebastian Douglas and Bryn Forbes. Now, Cleveland State will have to shuffle its lineup once again for the first six games, and at a time when developing chemistry is absolutely crucial to this young squad.

To make matters worse, the question of who will start in Lee’s place will begin to emerge. The plan was originally to have a three-guard set, which has been a staple of Viking starting lineups during the Gary Waters era. Originally, Lee, Lewis and Creighton transfer Andre Yates were penned in to fill those slots.

Since Lee will not be a part of the equation, the question will arise as to how to adjust. Conventional wisdom would dictate that recent transfer Kaza Keane, who received a hardship waiver and is now a part of the roster, will fill the gap. This was the case during the exhibition, in which he started and notched four points and two assists in 29 minutes of action.

This will also mean that freshman Kenny Carpenter will likely see more minutes than originally planned. The 25 minutes he played against Malone, scoring three points and grabbing five boards, could be the norm for the first part of the season.

Beyond the rotational questions, the bigger issue lies in the fact that as a senior, Lee was supposed to provide leadership on the floor. Without him, the Vikings will have to rely more on fellow senior Marlin Mason and juniors Lewis and Anton Grady to take the helm.

All in all, the Charlie Lee suspension casts a major shadow on Cleveland State’s prospects this year. While games against Tiffin, Jacksonville State and Savannah State were virtual locks to win, the opener against a tough Iona squad will be that much harder to will, as will the game against Marshall. And the Louisville game was already going to be a grind. Lee’s absence doesn’t help matters.