As I mentioned in my last column, this year’s Cleveland State squad will do things that will drive fans crazy, as the young players adjust to the college game and, more importantly, each other. Little did any of us know that one of those “make you crazy” moments would come to pass so quickly.
That moment, of course, came in the first half of the Vikings’ match-up against Tennessee-Martin, which was the second of four games that are part of the Bluegrass Showcase. With Cleveland State playing horrendously on offense, the Skyhawks had no problem taking advantage. And with 50 points in the first half, it appeared that even the signature Viking defense had all but fizzled away.
Being down 50-23 to open the second half, Cleveland State fans were probably shuffling for the remote control to find the Cavs game. But much like the opening contest against Kent State, when the Vikings found themselves down 20, the comeback began.
And throughout the second half, Cleveland State chipped away at the UT-Martin lead, getting it down to single digits and, thanks to a pair of Jibri Blount free throws, got as close as 70-66. In the end, though, the deficit proved to be insurmountable, as the Skyhawks prevailed, 85-74.
Fans will tell you that are no such things as moral victories, but with the type of team the Vikings have right now, you’ll take what you can get. And yes, fans should expect that no matter the circumstances, Cleveland State has to get into the habit of playing for the entire game, rather than let the opponent run of the score in the first 20 minutes.
That said, the second half of the UT-Martin game proved that the Vikings are capable of some serious damage. Cleveland State forced the Skyhawks to cough up the ball 16 times in that half, and outrebounded them, 22-17. For a Viking squad that was already short on size, with senior Demonte Flannigan still out of the lineup, being able to outmuscle UT-Martin on the boards was nothing short of a miracle.
However, with the third game in the Bluegrass Showcase coming up against Kentucky, there is absolutely no room for error. The top-ranked Wildcats, through their first four games, have been tearing their opponents apart. That includes drubbing then-No. 13 Michigan State, 69-48, on the Spartans’ home court.
And Kentucky hasn’t been taking it easy on the Bluegrass Showcase foes, either. In fact, the Wildcats essentially used its wins against Canisius and Duquesne as glorified exhibition games. Kentucky used its sensational backcourt to roll the Golden Griffins, 93-69. Then, after cruising against the Spartans, the Wildcats hammered the Dukes, 93-59.
Not helping Cleveland State’s prospects on Wednesday is the fact that its dearth of size will be exploited by Kentucky, as 6-10 freshmen Edrice Adebayo will be leading the charge in the frontcourt. And as promising as the Viking guards have been with Rob Edwards, Bobby Word and Kash Thomas, the Wildcats will counter with their three best scorers, Isaiah Briscoe, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox.
All signs basically point to a huge Kentucky win. But, as was evidenced by Cleveland State’s fight with the Wildcats in 2013, you can never count out a Gary Waters-led team.
Then again, if the Vikings don’t show up for the first half again, Kentucky, unlike CSU’s previous opponents, will have none of any sort of comeback and make things worse.
Image via CSUVikings.com