Tag Archives: Rob Edwards

Will Lacrosse Pass Basketball as Cleveland State’s Premier Sport? Maybe.

Perhaps John Parry was right after all.

The now-retired athletic director at Cleveland State had, for years, indicated a desire to bring his most-cherished sport, lacrosse, to campus. And he made that dream a reality in 2015, when he announced that CSU would start up a men’s team.

Of course, that announcement will be mostly remembered for Parry’s faux pas in attempting to defund the wrestling program, which, thanks to an outpouring of community support, didn’t happen.

While the two-year ramp-up to the launch of the men’s lacrosse program was going on, men’s basketball was heading in a far different direction. Head coach Gary Waters watched as his team, which had won 20 games in the 2014-15 season, slowly disintegrate.

Many have pointed to the departure of Waters’ key stars, Trey Lewis and Anton Grady, who became graduate transfers and left for the brighter lights and bigger crowds of more prominent programs. But the graduate transfers were only part of the slow decline.

Waters also found himself losing other key players, including Kaza Keane and Andre Yates. And his recruiting classes, from 2014 on, couldn’t pick up the slack as well as some of Waters’ previous classes had. As a result, the Vikings lost more than 20 games two years in a row, and whatever fan enthusiasm and media attention was left was stamped out.

Lacrosse, on the other hand, went into full guerilla marketing mode both prior to the start of the season and throughout the year. While Parry was certainly a visible figure, the heavy lifting was done by Dylan Sheridan. The first-year head coach leveraged his network (both social media and otherwise) to get the word out about his new squad.

And while the men’s basketball team continued to sputter during the 2016-17 campaign, the lacrosse squad, which was filled almost entirely with freshmen, seemed to grow stronger.

Of course, the lacrosse team didn’t have much of a choice, given that Sheridan loaded the schedule with some of the toughest competition in the country, including Duke, Denver (Sheridan’s former school) and Ohio State, the national runner-up.

Even the off-seasons for both teams seemed to split off. Waters opted for retirement and his replacement, former Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton, hit the recruiting trail. Sheridan spent his early off-season barnstorming, even making an appearance on the NCAA lacrosse tournament’s broadcast.

Going into next season, it appears that on the surface, lacrosse is much better positioned for a leap in the ranks, given its core of underclassmen with a year under their belt. Basketball, in spite of having six seniors on the team, look more and more like a program that is back in rebuilding mode, thanks to transfer of its top scorer, Rob Edwards, along with a half-dozen other players.

With its considerably lower overhead and a big head-start in bridging the enthusiasm gap, it’s a safe bet that Sheridan and his squad will continue to build program momentum and take advantage of the niche men’s lacrosse has in the national collegiate landscape. And local media has even started to take notice, as evidenced by the team’s appearance on WJW’s morning show in the spring.

As Sheridan continues his sales pitch, Felton, on the other hand, already has an uphill climb. Basketball’s fan base has dwindled to practically nothing, thanks to consecutive losing seasons and the draw of the Cavaliers. Exacerbating this is CSU’s long-standing problem of trying to appeal to target audiences (students, in particular) that clearly don’t seem interested.

Strange as it sounds, the dynamics between the two teams seems to favor the upstart efforts of lacrosse. And as a result, Sheridan and his crew could very well surpass Felton and his squad as the most prominent Cleveland State sport.

That may not have been Parry’s intention when he drew up the plans to bring lacrosse to CSU, but it may very well end up that way.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

The Disgruntled Cleveland State Fan’s Guide to Finding a New Team to Root For

When you take over a program that already had trouble with transfers, not to mention a serious problem with visibility, perhaps it’s not the best plan to, I don’t know, disappear off the planet?

But that appears to be what new Cleveland State basketball coach Dennis Felton has done, though to be fair, it’s not like he exactly had a choice. Without a coaching staff officially in place, Felton has had to scramble around the country trying to secure recruits for the spring signing period.

Of course, Felton may already have former Northern Illinois assistant Lou Dawkins hired. But it’s really hard to know if that’s official, given that the only indication the hire has happened is from a few tweets, most notably from Garfield Heights High School coach Sonny Johnson.

It may not be fair to Felton, but back-to-back 20-loss seasons, a non-existent fan base and a media landscape with the attention span of a newt should have sparked some sense of urgency. The wait-and-see approach was probably not going to be the best plan.

Instead, Cleveland State decided to do what it does every single off-season, as if somebody didn’t get the memo that Gary Waters retired.

So, in effect, the institution that incentivized the heck out of Felton with six figures worth of bonuses if he performs well saddled him with the same game plan that really didn’t excite anybody inside or outside campus. This basically guarantees that nobody will care what happens to the Vikings this season, unless Felton somehow goes rogue and starts promoting out of the circle of apathy he currently finds himself in.

And with Rob Edwards officially deciding to transfer to Arizona State, the glimmer of a true star has faded away, leaving Felton with a gaggle of role players (save for Kash Thomas and, potentially, Shawn Christian), as well as unknown spring signees.

With yet another year’s worth of unknowns concerning the basketball program and a university that has proven itself completely incapable of drawing and sustaining the attention of anybody to its crown jewel, fans may very well be at their wit’s end with Cleveland State.

And that might mean finding another college hoops team to root for, if you’ve gotten to that breaking point. So, as always, I’m here to help. Here are some potential new schools.

Ohio State

I start with the obvious one, mostly because if you’re a Cleveland State student, you’re already paying way more attention to OSU than the school you actually attend. As far as basketball is concerned, though, this may be a trap. The Buckeyes have been pretty mediocre the last few seasons, to the extent that there’s a legitimate debate as to how much longer Thad Matta will remain as coach. That said, you probably own all kinds of Ohio State gear, so you do you.

Youngstown State

Don’t look now, but Youngstown State has decided it cares about men’s basketball. That much was clear when the Penguins tapped Fairmont State’s Jerrod Calhoun as its new head coach. Calhoun, of course, was widely thought to be a favorite for the CSU gig. But since that didn’t happen, Calhoun is making it his mission to convince Northeast Ohio prep stars to forgo downtown Cleveland and make the trek to the Mahoning Valley. And let’s not forget YSU still has All-Horizon League star Cameron Morse, who scores in bunches.

Kent State

Last year was supposed to be a down year for Kent State, and the Golden Flashes still won 20 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Rob Senderoff will be looking to expound on his success from this past season. And even better news, if you’re an active reader of Cleveland.com, Kent State will actually get coverage! The only down side is that the MAC Center is kind of a hike and parking is a nightmare.

Akron

Like Kent State, Akron benefits from Cleveland.com caring about what the Zips do. And it may be quite a bit, seeing as how longtime head coach Keith Dambrot has left for Duquesne. Replacing him was another name that was tossed about during the Cleveland State coaching search, John Groce. It’s probably going to be a rebuilding year for Akron, but at least it will get people’s attention.

John Carroll

If you’ve had it with Division I basketball, you might as well take a look at one of the most successful Division III schools in the area, John Carroll University. Ask Kentucky’s John Calipari about the Blue Streaks, whose player rotation he emulated a few years back. And while legendary head coach Mike Moran has retired, he is being replaced by assistant coach Pete Moran. As a former player (not to mention Mike’s son), the younger Moran will carry his father’s work forward into the future.

If putting together a list of teams to follow instead of Cleveland State is harsh, particularly to those who continue to preach patience, this is where we’re at. It’s almost as if athletics has decided it’s not worth the work to actively seek out new fans, even though the additional revenue would make it look like the program isn’t cool with sponging off of students.

And you’re not off the hook, either, students. In fact, with every passing year, you look more like suckers. Why? Because you spend more money per year on average on something you don’t care about (athletics) than something you go out of your way to complain about everyday (parking)!

The off-season doesn’t mean CSU get to take April through October off promoting men’s basketball, but from an outsider’s point of view, that’s exactly what it looks like.

Listen to the angry fans, for once. And maybe you can start to right the ship.

Email bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Cleveland State University

Rob Edwards Should Stay at Cleveland State

Typically when a player requests a release from his scholarship to seek out possible transfer opportunities, it’s usually the last a school will ever see of him. Cleveland State has lived through this all too many times, not just with recent graduate transfers, but with others who felt the grass was greener on the other side.

In fact, transfers are, for the most part, a way of life in college basketball these days. But if you believe the narrative, this phenomena has affected the Vikings far more than other mid-major programs.

So, you can understand the apprehension associated with the recent announcement that Rob Edwards asked to be released from his scholarship at CSU. The second-team All-Horizon League guard and Cleveland State’s leading scorer is looking for the right fit. And with the recent hire of Dennis Felton as head coach, Edwards may be of the opinion that he would be better served playing elsewhere.

And while he hasn’t made his decision final, Viking fans have all but resided themselves to life without Edwards. Naturally, the more pessimistic members of the fanbase don’t like CSU’s prospects next year, even with seven seniors on the roster.

But there is a possibility, albeit remote, that Edwards could see what’s out there and believe that Cleveland State is, in fact, where he should stay. And there are plenty of reasons out that could serve to bolster a compelling argument that would convince Edwards to remain a Viking.

First, and most importantly, is that by rule, transfers must sit out a year before playing a minute with a new team. That could rule out a lateral move to another mid-major. Marcus Keene switching from Youngstown State to Central Michigan might be a case study on mid-major transfers, the Chippewas, in spite of his prolific scoring, still finished in the bottom of the MAC standings. Plus Keene has declared for the NBA Draft.

If the NBA is Edwards’ primary goal, then perhaps this is an option. But team performance is likely to be a consideration, and no matter the level of pro aspirations, it seems highly unlikely that Edwards would opt for a middling program.

Where does Cleveland State stand, then? Well, Felton has made it clear he wants to hit the ground running with his current squad. And Edwards, in all honestly, would be the lynchpin that would finally get the Vikings over the hump.

The backcourt rotation, which was lacking last season and probably contributed to a few of those close losses, would be much more solid. Kash Thomas returns as point guard, finally joined by Gavin Peppers, whose season was wiped out by injury. Add to the mix freshmen sharpshooter Shawn Christian, who should take some pressure off of Bobby Word and Kenny Carpenter, who struggled at time last year.

Having Edwards in the rotation, especially as the team’s returning leading scorer, would catapult Cleveland State back to having one of the best backcourts in the Horizon League. And in a guard-heavy conference, that’s the key difference between the top and the bottom.

Beyond that, Edwards is also probably looking at what help the frontcourt would bring. And this may very well be where Felton’s previous coaching experience comes into play. While retired head coach Gary Waters tended to struggle with developing big men (Aaron Pogue and Anton Grady being the exceptions), Felton has had some success in this department. The best example would be Felton’s center at Western Kentucky, Chris Marcus, who was an honorable mention All-American in 2001 and 2002.

And Felton, who served as the Director of Pro Player Personnel with the San Antonio Spurs, would certainly know what Edwards would need to do in order to make it to the pros.

Ultimately, Edwards will do what he feels is best for his basketball career, and that could very well be at another school. That said, perhaps the above arguments could simply go beyond the “the team would be awful without you” line and, as a result, maybe might make Edwards change his mind.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Dennis Felton’s at Cleveland State. Now the Real Work Must Begin.

Well, the hire has been made and the introductory press conference is now in the books. Dennis Felton is now the head men’s basketball coach at Cleveland State. Among the guests at his presser were athletic director Mike Thomas, who chose Felton over, among others, Jerrod Calhoun and Jermaine Kimbrough, and the recently-retired Gary Waters, whom Felton considers a mentor.

Felton, to his credit, has the presence of mind to understand what’s at stake in the coming months as it relates to the CSU program. There are already many questions that will need to be answered before the 2017-18 season tips off in November.

At the forefront is the local ties. During his press conference, Felton mentioned the need to focus on local recruiting to strengthen the ties between Cleveland State and the community. The challenge becomes overcoming his own lack of ties to Northeast Ohio.

The question may inevitably answer itself during Felton’s hiring of a new coaching staff. While nobody is sure if either former assistants Larry DeSimpelare or Jermaine Henderson will be retained, there is certainly at least one slot open, as Cornelius Jackson has accepted an offer to join the Marshall staff.

At this point, the hiring of an assistant with local ties is the highest priority, especially considering with the announcement of Calhoun as the new head coach at Youngstown State, Northeast Ohio will be a major target for him and his Penguins staff.

Helping Felton’s cause are as well the recent shows of support from two of the area’s most prominent names in high school hoops: St. Edwards’ Eric Flannery and Garfield Heights’ Sonny Johnson. In the case of Johnson, the endorsement does seem to indicate that one of his players, CSU signee Shawn Christian, will definitely honor his commitment to the Vikings and be a part of the squad next year.

It’s too early to tell, but any help from the high school ranks would go a long way, especially after Babe Kwasniak, the head coach at Villa Angela-St. Joseph, was openly baffled by Cleveland State’s seeming refusal to give further consideration to Calhoun. This is particularly noteworthy, given that recent CSU player Demonte Flannigan was recruited out of VASJ.

Beyond the incoming recruiting, retaining current players will have to be on Felton’s agenda. And, according to a report from the New-Herald’s David Glasier, sophomore star Rob Edwards is at the top of that list.

As it stands, Felton will already be looking to fill at least seven open scholarship slots for 2018. But before that even happens, he now must worry about the prospects of potentially losing his top playmaker to another school. Felton’s ties to the NBA, a clear aspiration for Edwards, may contribute to providing a compelling argument. But it’s not really clear at this point whether it will work.

Other major questions on the current Cleveland State roster remain as well. Who else is thinking of leaving? What becomes of Derek Sloan? Where does redshirt freshman Andy Lucien fit into all of this? While it’s a situation that Felton has faced in his prior head coaching roles at Western Kentucky and Georgia, there can be little hesitation.

The last, and quite possibly biggest, piece of the puzzle is CSU’s overall standing within the Cleveland sports landscape. Even as Felton’s press conference splashed on the headlines, that news had to compete with both Calhoun’s hire at YSU and the recent announcement at Akron’s Keith Dambrot will be taking over at Duquesne.

Again, from Felton’s own experience, the lack of attention isn’t a new situation for him. One story he related during the press conference was the miniscule crowds that showed up to Western Kentucky games during the early years of his tenure. Upon his departure in 2003, the Hilltoppers averaged more than 5,400 people per home game.

It also probably helped that Felton’s WKU teams didn’t lose a single game at home from 2001 to 2003.

While that may be impressive, as Felton is likely aware, Cleveland is not basketball-hungry Kentucky. CSU not only competes for attention with the Cavaliers, it also has to contend with Akron and Kent State, whose own success can snatch away any Viking media attention in a heartbeat.

The next few months will likely give Felton the opportunity to dispel any concerns that fans and the media (myself included on both counts) have about his hiring. Any misstep along the way either by Felton or Cleveland State could prove costly.

Let’s be honest here. Felton was a safe pick. With the expectations that Thomas would make a home-run hire, the selection of Felton can be considered, at best, a ground-rule double. Sure, the batter made it safely on base, but he’s going to need a lot of help to make it home to score.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

The Surprise Twist Ending to Cleveland State’s Twin Bill Versus Horizon League Leaders

Things haven’t gone Cleveland State’s way at all this year, which has prompted the fans that haven’t lost interest to wonder if this season is a repeat of the dreadful performance last season.

And on Saturday against Valparaiso, the Vikings once again let offensive woes erase a first-half lead. Like a broken record, CSU also found itself digging a double-digit hole that it had to dig out of, which, in the end proved to be insurmountable. As a result, the Crusaders, who were fighting for a top spot in the Horizon League standings, came away the victor.

The box score from the Viking loss reads like many of the others this season: A player on the opposing team (in this case, Valpo’s Alec Peters) goes off (30 points), CSU gets woefully rebounded (43-25); Three-point shooting is abysmal (33.3 percent; worse if you take away Bobby Word’s 4-for-9 performance), and so on.

Needless to say, the prospects for Monday’s match-up against Oakland at the O’Rena looked pretty grim. The Golden Grizzlies were looking to bounce back from an inexplicable loss to cross-town rival Detroit, and the Vikings, who haven’t won on the road all season, looked to be the perfect team to take their frustrations out on. Plus, given CSU’s lack of size in the frountcourt, Oakland, led by Jalen Hayes, were poised to have a field day and add to its already robust block total.

So, given all the advantages the Grizzlies had going for them and how the Vikings have found it hard getting out of jams they’ve gotten into this season, all signs pointed to an easy Oakland win. Add to that the fact that Cleveland State broke out the black jerseys again, which, over the last few years have been about as much luck as a black cat or the Buffalo Bills in the 90s.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the rout: The Vikings played their best game of the season. Not only that, CSU never trailed the entire game and came out of the O’Rena, which is notorious for being the toughest place in the conference to play, and won handily, 76-65.

Not surprisingly, the key to the Viking win was Rob Edwards, who was celebrating a homecoming of sorts, having graduated from Cass Tech in Detroit. The sophomore guard played the game of his career, scorching Oakland for 32 points that included nailing four three-pointers. He also led the team with seven rebounds and was, by all accounts, unstoppable.

And while Hayes did make his presence known, dropping in 25 points and grabbing a game-high eight rebounds, Cleveland State kept the rest of the team at bay. It also helped that the Golden Grizzlies were absolutely horrendous beyond the arc, making only two three-pointers in 18 attempts.

The Vikings also succeeded in keeping Oakland from swatting them out of the gym, holding the Grizzlies to only four blocks in the contest. Rebounding also was in Cleveland State’s favor, finishing the game with a 36-32 advantage on the glass.

It was freshman Kash Thomas, though, who provided the biggest jolt for the Vikings. The point guard ended with 16 points in 35 minutes, and Oakland didn’t seem to have any answer for either him or Edwards. In an up-and-down campaign for the first-year player out of Montreal, this win could be seen a checkmark on the plus side for Thomas.

While the win against the Grizzlies can be, by all accounts, considered a marquee victory for Cleveland State, the trip to Wisconsin looms. And for the Vikings, the road games against Green Bay and Milwaukee have always been daunting, even as the Panthers have found themselves near the bottom of the Horizon League standings. With that, CSU needs to notch at least a split of the two-game set, or the outlook for the second half of the conference slate looks much bleaker.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Q Sweep Gives Cleveland State a Boost

Going into the game against Bethune-Cookman at Quicken Loans Arena, there were so many reasons to think that Cleveland State would have no problem dispatching of its MEAC foes. However, the specter of a four-game losing streak, coupled with the Vikings’ inability to win at the Q at all last season likely gave head coach Gary Waters a bit of pause.

In spite of Rob Edwards still appearing to be hampered by a hand injury (as evidenced by 8-14 from the free-throw line), he still managed to drop in 19 points. And a healthy Demonte Flannigan lead CSU with 21, allowing the Vikings to stave off a Wildcat surge, led by Quinton Forrest’s 24 points, to take their second win of the season, 73-62.

While the win was much-needed, especially on the heels of a 28-point drubbing at the hands of Arkansas State the game before, it did seem as if Cleveland State was a bit out of sorts. It probably didn’t help that the Vikings were a meager 21.9 percent on three-point shots.

Or perhaps it was because it seemed as if depth in the backcourt was seriously lacking against Bethune-Cookman. Gavin Peppers remains out with the bone bruise to his foot, and now walk-on Nelson Maxwell, who provided CSU with minutes backing up Kash Thomas, is out of the lineup with a hamstring injury.

Despite all of this, the Vikings regrouped and finally put together the kind of complete game fans have been hoping for all season with an 85-62 pasting of Western Michigan. The win game Cleveland State a sweep of the two games at the Q, a venue that gave the Vikings nothing but headaches last season, as they couldn’t muster a single win in the five games there.

In the win, Edwards’ hand appeared to be much improved from the previous game, shooting 50 percent from the field and finishing with 15 points. Flannigan, who has slowly but surely eased his way back into the swing of things since returning to the start lineup, dominated the paint and finished with 20 points.

But the big news coming out of the Q on Wednesday was the performance of Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word. The junior had struggled mightily during the four-game slide, and even in the B-C game wasn’t terribly efficient (eight points on 3-9 shooting).

The WMU game, however, was a much different story.

Word practically couldn’t miss against the Broncos, and torched them on an astounding 75 percent (9-12) from the field, including making five shots from beyond the arc. His 25 points led all scorers, and could possibly serve as the spark the Vikings need on offense.

And that need won’t be felt more than it will be when Cleveland State travels to West Lafayette on Saturday to face 18th-ranked Purdue. And while the last ranked opponent the Vikings faced, then-No. 1 Kentucky, almost felt like an automatic loss, the Boilermakers, particularly their coach Matt Painter, isn’t underestimating CSU.

Whether the Vikings can retain the momentum from overcoming their woes early this season remains to be seen. But maybe Cleveland State, especially when Peppers, Maxwell and also-injured Anthony Wright return, can get to a point where it’s not sitting near the bottom of the Horizon League standings.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State Returns Home (Sort Of) Battered and Beaten

It has really gotten to the point at Cleveland State where it’s become extremely difficult to figure out if there’s any progress happening. The initial returns did indicate that maybe, just maybe, the Vikings would avoid the fate that felled them last season. And let’s face it, nobody wants to see a repeat of last year.

But even with leaving the 101-70 drubbing at the hands of Kentucky out of the equation (since the Wildcats are putting that kind of hurting on all opponents this season), the measure of progress is looking harder to find.

And when Cleveland State continues to make the same mistakes over and over again (Read: long scoring droughts, giving up double-digit leads, etc.), it makes anybody wonder if the cycle of misery experienced from 2015-16 isn’t coming back to rear its ugly head.

Making matters worse is what appears to be a decided lack of depth, in spite of a rather robust rotation that coach Gary Waters has utilized. This has become a particularly glaring issue at point guard, where Gavin Peppers is still out of the rotation with a bone bruise on his foot.

Freshman Kash Thomas, as promising as he has been early on, has also run into some issues that his inexperience and a dearth of help in the rotation have brought to light. Kentucky and, most recent, Arkansas State have been able to target him on defense and, as a consequence, make him a non-factor on offense, as evidenced by limiting him to zero points in the first halves of both contests.

Now, the injury bug has come to claim Rob Edwards, CSU’s leading scorer, even as Demonte Flannigan and Terrelle Hales have come back from early health issues. A hand injury resulted in him sitting out of practice prior to the road trip against the Red Wolves. And limited to 22 minutes in the 78-51 rout at the hands of Arkansas State, Edwards was held scoreless.

In fact, with the Vikings sporting a 1-5 record, it seems as if the only highlight of the upcoming home game at Quicken Loans Arena against Bethune-Cookman is the return of a Cleveland State great. The Wildcats are coached by Gravelle Craig, who was part of the 1992-93 Vikings squad that tore through the Mid-Continent Conference (now called the Summit League) en route to a regular-season title.

For his part, Craig garner first-team all-conference honors (to go along with his second-team honors the previous year) and honorable mention All-American recognition from Basketball Weekly that season. His 5.5 assists per game remains the all-time record for dishes in CSU history.

The emotional boost that will be part of this Ohio homecoming for Craig, along with several members of the Bethune-Cookman roster and staff (including senior writer Dan Ryan) won’t be the only thing the Vikings will have to contend with. Cleveland State will also have to find an answer for the Wildcats’ junior guard, Brandon Tabb.

The 6-5 juco transfer has been on a tear, and was recently named MEAC Co-Player of the Week. Tabb’s 22.1 points per game also leads the conference and ranks him 22nd in the entire country, plus he is second nationally in three-pointers made.

With as many issues as the Vikings have had defending beyond the arc, even in their sole win against Canisius, having Tabb go off on them won’t help matters. And with the Bethune-Cookman faithful seemingly more excited about the game at the Q than Cleveland State fans are, the last thing Waters needs is reinforcement of his assertion that games at the home of the Cavaliers are little more than neutral-site contests to him.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

CSU Is a Case Study in a Tale of Two Teams

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.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

 

Welcome to the Cleveland State Youth Movement

Cleveland State men’s basketball coach Gary Waters has always relied on senior leadership throughout his tenure to provide some form of stability to his squad. In years past, you could easy differentiate the successful teams from those that weren’t based on the number of seniors on the roster.

Using that as a measure, it’s rather easy to see that in years where only one senior played a role in the rotation, the Vikings struggled. This was true during the 2012-13 season, Tim Kamczyc’s senior year, and last season, when Vinny Zollo was the lone senior.

So, in a season as critical and as uncertain as this one is for Cleveland State, it’s a bit surprising that only one senior, Demonte Flannigan, is a part of this roster. And for the first two games against Kent State and Canisius, the Vikings didn’t even have him. Prior to the game against the Flashes at Youngstown State’s Beeghly Center, Flannigan was rushed to the hospital due to chest pains.

And he wasn’t cleared to play in the subsequent game versus the Golden Griffins, either, which left Cleveland State down three players, with Flannigan joining juniors Gavin Peppers and Terrelle Hales on the sidelines.

In the opening half of the Kent State game, fans could feel the sense of dread that dogged them all last year creep in. The Vikings were shooting blanks and going down by as much as 21 points with five minutes left in the half. Not helping matters was the fact that fans who couldn’t make the trip to Youngstown found themselves shut out of both the audio and video feeds online for a big chunk of that half.

But a funny thing happened on the way to navel-gazing. Cleveland State finally snapped out of what’s been a nearly year-long funk and did what it usually does when knocked down: fight back. And it was Jamarcus Hairston, the junior-college forward, who tossed in a three-pointer to force overtime against the Flashes.

Even though the Vikings ran out of gas and fell, 79-74, it seemed as if there may be some glimpses of what had been hallmarks of the program in the Waters era. And something else stuck out as noteworthy: The underclassmen, particularly the freshmen and sophomores, played a major role in the comeback.

In years past, Waters has been adamant about not starting freshmen right away. This was even true last year, as Rob Edwards didn’t get his first start until the Rhode Island game and Jibri Blount didn’t get the nod until the January 30th contest against Horizon League foe UIC.

However, it seems that necessity, and perhaps a superstar in the making, has prompted Waters to re-think his original notion. With Peppers out, Waters turned to freshman Kash Thomas to take on the role of floor general. And in the Kent State game, he finished with 13 points and nine assists.

And Flannigan’s absence has spurred on Evan Clayborne’s introduction into the rotation, chipping in four rebounds in 32 minutes against the Flashes.

The youth movement’s next test came on Tuesday night against Canisius, and impressively, the Vikings did something else fans haven’t seen in a while: provide a balanced attack against its foe. Five Cleveland State players, including Edwards, Blount, Thomas, junior Bobby Word and, coming out of nowhere, Derek Sloan, all scored in double figures en route to a 67-64 win.

Without a senior in the rotation at the moment, it appears that the Vikings have made the adjustments needed, making this a potential sign that the 2015-16 disaster will soon be a distant memory. With a very tough UT-Martin squad coming up and nationally-ranked Kentucky on the horizon, wins may be hard to come by in the near-term.

But as Waters would likely echo sentiments he’s conveyed in years past: Judge this team in January and February. Perhaps this year, that judgment will be that Cleveland State is back to where it usually is: Within shouting distance of the top of the Horizon League standings.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Vikings Open Season Plus a Scorer, Minus a Point Guard

Exhibitions, by their very nature, aren’t exactly supposed to tell us much. For the most part, teams use these as a tune-up for the wear-and-tear of the upcoming season. And since the opponent is typically a non-Division I school, most teams go into exhibitions with two goals: Stay healthy and don’t lose (like Detroit Mercy has done. Twice).

In Cleveland State’s case, though, there was an extra goal in mind going into its preseason tilt against Division II Tiffin. Since the Vikings were, by all accounts, scoring impaired last season, it was important for them to dip into the pool of new recruits to see who could be that second scoring option behind Rob Edwards.

And in CSU’s 89-67 win against the Dragons, it appears there may be more than one candidate for the job. And at least one of those hopefuls is a familiar face to Viking fans.

Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word, who has been widely touted for his ability to score, did exactly that on Monday night, finishing the game with 14 points in 25 minutes of work. In a competition for a spot in the starting rotation, it was Word who took the spot against Tiffin, and took full advantage of it, recording four steals to go along with his two three-pointers.

Kenny Carpenter staked his claim in the scoring role as well on Monday. While consistency was a question for the junior last season, the exhibition served as an opportunity to back up all of those off-season workouts with action. In his 16 minutes of action, Carpenter also notched 14 points, which included a pair of his own treys.

In fact, three-point shooting, which has, in recent years, given head coach Gary Waters bouts of indigestion, was surprisingly hot against the Dragons. And while nobody expects the Vikings to routinely shoot 43 percent from beyond the arc, the 10 three-pointers they made against Tiffin were a nice change of pace from the dearth of such shots last season.

The bad news, though, is that the Vikings will once again find themselves without the services of an experienced point guard in the short term. Junior college transfer Gavin Peppers, who was one of the frontrunners to start at the point this season, was seen in a walking boot. As Tom Mieskoski reported, Peppers has a rather significant bone bruise and will miss three to five weeks as a result.

While the lack of a true point guard may have been a major source of dread last season, there was a bright silver lining that came out of the exhibition that could allay fan fears, at least temporarily. The other point guard Waters signed, freshman Kash Thomas, appears to be up to the task to take on the court general role.

In his 29 minutes, Thomas had himself a highly efficient evening, recording four assists on only a pair of turnovers. And like many Cleveland State guards before him, Thomas seems to be quite the thief, finishing the game with four steals, tying Word for the team lead.

While the backcourt looks to be much-improved from the previous campaign, the frontcourt will likely remain a major issue. Perhaps it was because both Demonte Flannigan and Jibri Blount were limited to 20 and 19 minutes, respectively, but the Vikings were out-rebounded by their Division II foe, 42 to 32. It may be an omen of things to come against higher caliber opponents.

Now that the exhibition is out of the way, the real season begins on Saturday against Kent State at the NE Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, which is being hosted by Youngstown State this year. Cleveland State kicks off its home slate next Tuesday against Canisius, a contest that is part of the Bluegrass Showcase.

Email Bob at [email protected].

Image via CSUVikings.com