Thursday, February 3, 2011

Vikings, Cole dump Valpo

CLEVELAND — Now that it’s in the books as a 76-65 victory for Cleveland State, it can be said the Vikings absolutely had to beat Valparaiso in Thursday’s Horizon League showdown at the Wolstein Center.

They needed to prevail to hold on to first place in the league race with six league games remaining.

Mission accomplished in that regard.

With their sixth straight victory, the Vikings improved to 21-3 overall and 10-2 in the league. That gives them a 1 1/2-game lead over second-place Valpo (16-7, 8-3) and a two-game edge on third-place Wright State (15-9, 8-4).

They also needed to beat Valpo not just to avenge last month’s 64-58 loss in Indiana, but also to demonstrate that this year, the road to the Horizon League title runs through Cleveland as the regular season enters its final month.

Consider that point made in emphatic fashion as the Vikings downed the Crusaders with a one-two punch of tenacious defense and clutch scoring.

Junior guard Jeremy Montgomery scored a career-high 26 points for the Vikings, who also got 25 points, 11 rebounds and seven steals from senior guard Norris Cole.

"We started off well, on an emotional high at the start,’’ Cole said. "To play this game effectively, you have to be intense. We turned the ball over a little too much due to the adrenaline, but once the game settled down, we allowed out defense to work.’’

The Vikings shot 44.9 percent from the field while limiting the Crusaders to 37.7 percent shooting, 10 points below their team average coming into the pivotal contest.

The Crusaders got 17 points from Howard Little and 15 points from rangy sophomore forward Ryan Broekhoff.

"You have to congratulate Cleveland State,’’ Valparaiso Homer Drew said. "They are on tip of the conference. They earned it. They deserved it. Cole and Montgomery were sensational.’’

At both ends of the floor, the Vikings made big plays when they needed to be made.
"The difference in the game as their speed taking over,’’ Drew said. "We could not get thm into a half-court game.’’

CSU built leads as large as 11 points in the first half before a 12-2 Valpo run over the final five minutes forced CSU to settled for a 31-30 lead at halftime. The second half was a back-and-forth affair, too, with CSU again taking 11-point leads only to have the Crusaders get back within range every time.

The Vikings repeatedly answered those rallies with scoring run of their own. They drained clutch shots and made life miserable for Valpo’s leading scorers, Brandon Wood and Cory Johnson. Averaging 16.0 and 15.8 points respectively, both were limited to six points.

"We had some breakdowns, but we played hard,’’ CSU coach Gary Waters said. "That’s a very good offensive team.’’

CSU won the rebounding battle, 48-36, and also had seven blocked shots, five by 6-foot-7 sophomore guard-forward Charlie Woods.

"It’s really good.’’ Drew said of CSU’s defense. "They are on-the-ball defenders. You saw the seven blocked shots. We had some point-blank looks that they erased with athleticism and jumping ability.’’

The Vikings swing back into action Saturday, hosting Butler (14-9, 6-5). The Bulldogs are reeling after Thursday’s 62-60 loss at Youngstown State. Tipoff is at noon. The game will be televised on ESPN.

• CSU is 13-0 at home this season and has a 15-game winning streak at Wolstein Center dating to last season.
Trey Harmon’s 12 rebounds were a career high. .
• The paid attendance of 4,472 was the third largest of the season.
courtesy of David S. Glasier



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