In as much as change is a constant variable in most every facet of society, the Greater Cleveland area has found a way to defy the odds and remain impervious to what may be beneficial for the greater good of certain entities that reside within its boundaries.
In the very first story I posted for the 800 Games Project, I mentioned that the local media outlets were exercising abstinence with regards to relinquishing any mention of the accomplishments of the Cleveland State Vikings men's basketball program. I am happy (enter sarcasm here) to report that nothing has changed! Since Friday, November 18, to the very moments prior to tonight's tip between the UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago) Flames and CSU, only one mention (and it was extremely brief) had been tallied. Although not a conspiracy theorist, I find belief that it borders secularity. The media outlets in Cleveland show nothing but contempt for Cleveland State by drudging up the same rhetorical defecation about the abysmal season that the Cleveland Browns just concluded, the arbitrary expectations of the Cleveland Cavaliers and their lockout-abbreviated season may offer, and the endless cries of how the sports fans of this once great city are hungry for a winning team. This happens on a daily basis, and isn't something that has recently transpired.
Herein lies the hypocrisy. Less than half a mile from the city center, lies a team that has averaged 20 wins per season, which includes two NIT berths (2007 and 2011) and an NCAA Tournament appearance (2009) in three of coach Gary Waters' first five seasons. In the early stages of his sixth season, his program has a 12-3 record and is averaging less than 3,000 fans per home contest (tonight's attendance was a paltry 2,137), with tickets at a fraction of the cost for the over-hyped entertainment-oriented professionals that reside figuratively blocks away. I try to be rational when considering how the sports fans of the Cleveland area could be as aloof as to what Coach Waters' transformation of the CSU program has produced, but it is not as they do not know the team exists. Even if they didn't know, would not some of the blame for the lack of knowledge fall at the feet of the media outlets whose sole purpose is to facilitate acknowledgement?
Much to the dismay of sub-Red-Line mercenaries nationwide, I digress (for now) and remove myself from the pulpit! After all, there was a game played tonight.
The UIC Flames come to Northeast Ohio with a 5-9 overall record (1-3 in the Horizon League) in the second year of head coach Howard Moore's tenure. It is a rebuilding year, again, because his first year saw him handcuffed by a late hiring -- his own! After more than three years of the legendary Jimmy Collins' battle with health problems, he and the UIC athletic department decided it was in the best interest of all concerned that the program move in a different direction. The only problem was the timing. Coach Moore was not hired until August 20th of 2010, which gave him less than two months to assemble a coaching staff, get to know his players and implement his systems, and begin recruiting. Not a lot of time to establish what little continuity he would have been afforded had the timetable reflected the dates of customary hiring practices. To coach Moore's credit, no excuses were rendered, and he and his team battled through a season which can only be described as tumultuous. As any good coach does, he utilized that year to evaluate and instill in his players exactly what he wanted from them individually and collectively, and lent vision to the future.
Cleveland State is coming off its first home loss of the season (third overall and first in the Horizon League) to Youngstown State this past Saturday, which allows them to boast a 12-3 record (2-1 in the Horizon League). After that game, coach Waters acknowledged a lack of focus and intensity on defense, as the primary reason for the loss. Needless to say, Waters does not tolerate lack of effort on the defensive end of the floor under any circumstances. The practices leading up to tonight's contest were sessions of remembrance for defensive shortcomings, to which every player on the roster took notice.
With Trevon Harmon's senior leadership and 10.9 points per game sitting tonight's game out due to concussion-like symptoms, freshman Charlie Lee was given the starting point guard duties. Senior center Aaron Pogue's lingering thigh contusion did not keep him from his starting role, but his labors in running the floor and trying to exude any explosion when rebounding are noticeable.
There is never a good time for players who are the core of who you are and what you do to have a night off, but tonight's game bestowed an opportunity that is rarely afforded a coach whose team is a conference championship contender. The experience, depth and talent of CSU, is where UIC hopes to be in the not to distant future, but tonight is about as close a lopsided matchup as you will ever see in the highly competitive Horizon League. Factor in that the CSU roster was looking for collective atonement from their lackluster performance five days prior, and one can understand why the Las Vegas oddsmakers had made the Vikings a 16.5-point favorite.
CSU won the opening tip despite Aaron Pogue's inability to create any form of vertical movement, and Charlie Lee's layup off a D'Aundray Brown assist opened the scoring 17 seconds into the contest. UIC's, 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Hayden Humes answered with a jump shot from the right wing to tie the game at 2-2, and that would be the closest the Flames would be for the remainder of the game. The Vikings went on a 14-0 run over the ensuing 5:09, before a Greg Travis jumper halted the CSU onslaught of relentless defense. CSU seemed to have taken offense to the Flames' scoring effort as they then embarked on yet another run, this one being of the 13-4 variety, and pushed their lead to 29-8 with 6:28 remaining in the first half.
UIC did manage to cut into that 21-point deficit by halftime through the efforts of Humes, Marc Brown and Paris Carter, and head to the locker room at intermission down by 17, 35-18.
The second half's opening minute allowed UIC to pull to within 15 off of a pair of Gary Talton free throws, but that soon dissipated as the Vikings, in workmanlike fashion, slowly inched their lead to 27 points with 5:17 left in the game. To the credit of the Flames roster, they showed resolve and did not quit. I have always been appreciative of effort. Regardless of it being the opposition, and whether it be in victory and/or defeat.
Tonight, the difference in experience and talent was evident, as the Vikings cruised to a 73-56 victory behind four CSU players posting double-digit point totals, led by Jeremy Montgomery's 14,which included a 4-for-6 performance from behind the arc. He now has 183 for his career, and is second on the CSU all-time three-point baskets made list, 79 behind James Madison, who set the mark with his efforts through the 1996-2000 seasons.
UIC was paced by Humes' eight-point, six-rebound effort. Twelve Flames players were present in the scoring column in an effort by xoach Moore to allow his young team to gain some much-needed court time and experience, which will undoubtedly pay dividends in the future.
It is my hope that I will no longer have to utilize this tiny space upon the internet to pontificate unto the masses within the media of Cleveland, the many reasons as to why the Cleveland State basketball program deserves their collective attention. It has always been known throughout the sales industry for decades that the best advertising is through "word of mouth!" Hopefully, the mouths of those who hold positions which afford them the ability to speak to tens of thousands of people on a daily basis, who claim they love Cleveland-area sports teams, will cease to turn a closed eye (and mouth) to what is unfolding in Cleveland State's Wolstein Center!
What a wonderful world this would be!
at CLEVELAND STATE 73, ILLINOIS-CHICAGO 56 01/05/2012
ILLINOIS-CHICAGO 5-10 (1-4) -- D. Barnes 1-6 0-0 3; G. Talton 2-9 2-2 6; H. Humes 3-9 1-1 8; D. Williams 2-8 3-4 7; G. Travis 1-3 0-1 2; M. Brown 0-4 5-6 5; R. Robinson 0-3 0-0 0; P. Carter 3-4 0-0 6; W. Simonton 0-2 2-3 2; D. Tyler 2-2 0-1 5; S. Sutter 0-1 4-4 4; J. Brown 2-3 0-0 5; A. Fells 0-1 0-0 0; M. Bush 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 17-56 17-22 56. CLEVELAND STATE 13-3 (3-1) -- C. Lee 4-10 3-4 13; D. Brown 5-12 2-4 13; T. Kamczyc 4-5 0-0 9; J. Montgomery 5-12 0-0 14; A. Grady 5-7 1-1 13; A. Pogue 1-3 0-0 2; M. Mason 2-4 0-0 5; D. Long 2-3 0-0 4; L. Ndaye 0-1 0-0 0; I. Nwamu 0-4 0-2 0. Totals 28-61 6-11 73.
Three-point goals: UIC 5-17 (D. Barnes 1-2; M. Bush 1-1; H. Humes 1-3; D. Tyler 1-1; J. Brown 1-2; M. Brown 0-3; A. Fells 0-1; R. Robinson 0-1; W. Simonton 0-1; S. Sutter 0-1; G. Talton 0-1), CLST 11-20 (D. Brown 1-2; J. Montgomery 4-6; T. Kamczyc 1-2; L. Ndaye 0-1; A. Grady 2-2; C. Lee 2-3; M. Mason 1-2; I. Nwamu 0-2); Rebounds: UIC 36 (D. Williams 6), CLST 35 (A. Grady 7); Assists: UIC 7 (G. Talton 2), CLST 17 (C. Lee 5); Total Fouls -- UIC 11, CLST 20; Fouled Out: UIC-None; CLST-A. Grady.