The importance of playing on television for sub-Red Line college basketball programs can not be under-stated. The experience is relished for a plethora of reasons, but none more important than the exposure that helps to manufacture recruiting classes. At a level of intercollegiate athletics where fiscal responsibility is written into a coach's contract, the opportunity to sell your program without leaving the office is a rare and extremely important occurrence.
Tonight's game was broadcast on ESPNU, marking the third game this season that Cleveland State was featured on the worldwide leader's family of networks, the first being the Vikings' season-opening trip to Vanderbilt on November 13th, which was broadcast on ESPNU. The second was a December 19th road game at Big East Conference member South Florida, which was broadcast on ESPN3. Wisconsin-Green Bay made an appearance on ESPN3 earlier this season when they traveled to Madison to take on the Badgers.
Outside of playing in a pre-conference tournament that is scheduled to be televised nationally, being a mid- and/or low-major and trying to breakthrough on the screen is a rare commodity until the third weekend of February, when ESPN showcases 26 (this season's allotment) of the top non-BCS conference teams whose conferences chose to participate in Bracketbusters. Cleveland State is in the running to participate in one of those 13 games.
Wisconsin-Green Bay's Phoenix is in the second season under the direction of head coach Brian Wardle and has experienced some growing pains, but not the type that would cause most fans to hit the panic button. Coach Wardle's roster boasts only three seniors, with Steve Baker being the only starter among that group, but that does not mean that the roster is devoid of talent. Baker's backcourt running mates who round out coach Wardle's three guard offense are lightning quick 5-10 freshman Kiefer Sykes, and 6-foot-2 sophomore Kam Cerroni. The frontcourt is patrolled by 6-foot-9 junior college transfer Brennan Cougill and 7-foot-1 shot alteration expert and leading scorer Alec Brown, whose nightly point contribution is just shy of 14 points per game. During warm-ups, I was extremely impressed with the athleticism and agility of Brown, and anticipated how that might translate to potential match-up problems for the Vikings.
Cleveland State's starting roster of four seniors and one junior has been a constant variable this season with the exception of three games due to injuries, which is a huge reason as to why the Vikings' record stands at 15-4 overall and 5-2 in Horizon League play. It must be noted that the impressive play of 6-foot-8 freshman Anton Grady has been a pleasant surprise for coach Waters. Not in the fact that he is contributing, but in the context of how much. With senior center Aaron Pogue still showing lingering effects of a thigh contusion which has him playing at about 70 percent, Grady's quality minutes and increasingly steady production has given the Vikings an extremely valuable option of the bench. This may be somewhat premature, but I felt as though I would be watching the two frontrunners for Horizon League Freshman of the Year honors tonight in the aforementioned Grady, and Green Bay's Kiefer Sykes.
The opening tip went to CSU, but a Tim Kamczyc foul and turnover lent Green Bay's Steve Baker the opportunity to open up the scoring off his right wing jumper. The game's opening minutes for Cleveland State were dotted with turnovers and fouls, two accrued by Pogue who was quickly pulled at the 16:59 mark, which permitted Anton Grady's first action of the night. Green Bay coach Brian Wardle did a nice job of throwing everything at the Vikings early, from a full-court press, to half-court traps, to even showing a little 2-1-2 zone. I thought that the decision to mix in a zone defense was a stroke of genius because the Vikings have a penchant to get comfortable on the perimeter and the ability to light it up from beyond the arc.
The first half was played at what I thought to be a frenetic pace, as both teams rarely let the shot clock reach the 10-second mark. As is usually the case when players wish to push the tempo, turnovers (both teams combined for 19 turnovers in the first half, 10 for CSU and nine for UWGB) and fouls are commonplace, and the Vikings put Green Bay in the bonus with 10:29 to play in the first half. The Vikings had a three-point lead at that juncture, and under normal circumstances lending your opposition the opportunity to shoot free throws for virtually half of a half can be extremely difficult to offset. Fortunately for the Vikings, Green Bay only made six more trips to the charity stripem and shot 50 percent. CSU would stretch their lead to nine points but Green Bay battled back even with their shot-altering center Alec Brown on the bench for seven of the final 10 minutes of the first half. The first half ended with both teams heading to their respective locker rooms while CSU held a six-point advantage at 36-30. Something that I found interesting was that both teams combined to utilize 19 different players (10 for CSU and nine for UWGB) during the first half, which is in direct correlation to the pace at which both teams played. Having said that, it was impressive to see both coaches have the confidence in their respective rosters, to go 9 and 10 deep in their rotations. Building for March can never start too early.
Cleveland State's experience and depth began to wear on Green Bay in the second half and the Vikings had stretched their lead to 18 points out of the under 12;00 media timeout with a pair of Anton Grady free throws at the 10:32 mark. (It needs to be noted, that CSU had put UWGB in the bonus at the 13:01 mark of the 2H) But to Green Bay's credit, they fought back with an 11-2 run over the ensuing two minutes that was kick started by an Alec Brown three from the right wing, and capped with his jumper from the right elbow. Gary Waters had seen enough and called a 30-second timeout to administer an emotional tourniquet and promptly send his troops back into action, where they responded with a 9-4 run of their own and push their lead up to 15 with 4:00 remaining in the second half.
Green Bay countered with a 13-4 run over the next 3:08 to make it a six-point Cleveland State lead with fifty two seconds remaining in the game. Out of a Phoenix timeout, Kam Cerroni promptly fouled Trevon Harmon to maximize possession opportunities. It turned out to be the wrong person to foul, as Harmon leads the Vikings in free-throw shooting percentage with an 82.9 percent success rate. Harmon converted both and Green Bay brought the ball up the floor and looked to get the ball in the hands of their hottest perimeter shooter Cerroni, who had connected on four threes in the second half. They found him in the corner and somehow through a double team, he managed to get up a shot that rattled in and out. Jeremy Montgomery grabbed the carom and was quickly fouled by Kiefer Sykes with 39 seconds left in the game. Montgomery would make good on both attempts and the Vikings would stretch their lead to 10 points. UWGB's Eric Valentin's three-pointer drew iron, and the Vikings would walk the ball over the timeline and be content with holding the ball for the remaining 30 seconds and a 78-68 home-court win over a resilient Wisconsin-Green Bay squad.
Cleveland State was extremely fortunate to win this game. Some may wonder how I could even think of interjecting a thought such as that, when Cleveland State had a double-digit lead virtually the entire second half and won by 10. Consider that the Vikings turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 21 times and put Green Bay in the bonus in the first half at the 10:29 mark of the first half. Couple that with CSU putting out the bonus welcome mat with 13:01 left in the second half, and then rolling out the double bonus red carpet with 6:35 still remaining in the game. To offset those mental gaffes Cleveland State shot an amazing 94% from the free throw line by connecting on 16 of 17 and out-rebounded the Phoenix by 20. Green Bay did itself no favors by shooting an abysmal 53 percent (16 for 30) from the free-throw line.
With this victory, CSU moves to 16-4 (6-2 Horizon League) on the season and Green Bay falls to 7-11 (3-5 Horizon League).
I walked away from this game extremely impressed with the resolve to which Green Bay played with, and I was very impressed with the play of freshman point guard Kiefer Sykes who scored 15 points and shared that honor with sophomore Kam Cerroni who scored all 15 of his points from outside the golden arches. With the inside presence of Alec Brown and the aforementioned Sykes and Cerroni, I can understand the Phoenix faithful being extremely optimistic about the future of the UW-Green Bay men's basketball program and see them as being one of the preseason favorites for the 2012-13 season.
Cleveland State senior guard Trevon Harmon led all scorers with 19 and freshman Anton Grady posted the first of what I am sure will be many more double-doubles, with 10 points and 13 rebounds in only 21 minutes of court time.
Cleveland State awaits Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Sunday which will decide who remains in the top spot to start the second half of conference play, while Green Bay travels to Youngstown State to take on the Penguins who continue to be the Horizon League's surprise of the season.
at CLEVELAND STATE 78, GREEN BAY 68 01/20/2012
GREEN BAY 7-11 (3-5) -- K. Sykes 4-8 7-12 15; S. Baker 5-10 2-2 12; B. Cougill 2-4 3-4 7; A. Brown 4-7 1-2 10; K. Cerroni 5-8 0-1 15; J. Humphrey 2-6 1-2 5; G. Mays 1-3 2-7 4; A. Armstead 0-3 0-0 0; T. Johnson 0-1 0-0 0; C. Heuer 0-0 0-0 0; E. Valentin 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-51 16-30 68. CLEVELAND STATE 16-4 (6-2) -- T. Kamczyc 4-4 4-5 12; J. Montgomery 4-13 2-2 11; D. Brown 4-9 0-0 9; T. Harmon 6-10 3-3 19; A. Grady 3-7 4-4 10; M. Mason 3-5 0-0 6; L. Ndaye 1-2 1-1 3; A. Pogue 3-4 2-2 8; C. Lee 0-0 0-0 0; D. Long 0-1 0-0 0; I. Nwamu 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-55 16-17 78.
Three-point goals: GB 6-17 (B. Cougill 0-1; S. Baker 0-4; A. Brown 1-1; K. Cerroni 5-8; E. Valentin 0-1; A. Armstead 0-2), CLST 6-15 (D. Brown 1-2; T. Harmon 4-6; J. Montgomery 1-7); Rebounds: GB 20 (A. Brown 5), CLST 39 (A. Grady 13); Assists: GB 9 (B. Cougill 4), CLST 18 (D. Brown 7); Total Fouls -- GB 16, CLST 23; Fouled Out: GB-None; CLST-None.