When you hear "Vikings" and "Crusaders," you harken back to the Middle Ages when people like Pope Alexander II, Constantine and Leif Eriksson were famous. The 10th and 11th centuries were marked by wars, religious uprisings, and numerous dynasties ruling the free world.
Now fast-forward to 2011. The Cleveland State Vikings and the Valparaiso Crusaders met Thursday evening at the Bert L. & Iris S. Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio, in a battle for first place in the Horizon League. The last time we saw these two teams play each other, Valpo held on to a late lead to beat the Vikings, 72-66. The rematch was a very important game for both teams, as the Crusaders came in at 10-3 in the conference behind the Vikings at 10-2. A Valpo win would push them into first place, and a loss could send Cleveland State squarely to the infamous bubble.
This was my first trip to the Wolstein Center to watch a Vikings game, and I was very excited to see how the atmosphere compared with other arenas that I had been to. Cleveland State is odd because the area behind one of the baskets is just a large curtain, blocking off another section of seating. This is where they hang their championship banners, including a large poster of now-famous alum Norris Cole of the Miami Heat. In between the basket and the curtain were tables set up for donors, who could enjoy a meal and some great Horizon League action. Since CSU is more of a commuter school, there were hardly any students making noise. This was the second-largest crowd of the season at a Viking game, but it sure didn't sound like it. Maybe it was due to the game, or maybe everyone was saving their voice for when Butler arrived on Saturday morning.
This was my girlfriend's first Cleveland State game as well. She's a first-year student in the Accelerated Nursing Program at CSU, and was excited to see her team...err...friends. That caused us to get to our seats a little later than usual, but that was okay by me. We walked by a Valpo fan and I told her to say "Go Vikings!" but that was to no avail. She clearly hasn't become a true fan yet.
Before Cleveland State could even blink, they were down 11-0. Native Australian Ryan Broekhoff scored them all for Valpo, including three superhoops. That lead became 17-1, which quickly ballooned to 22-4. The Crusaders just couldn't miss. Super sub Richie Edwards came in and hit a couple threes as well. It didn't help that Cleveland State missed nine, count 'em, nine layups in the first half. Vikings forward Tim Kamczyc started the mini-comeback with an actual made layup, after which my girlfriend responded, "He's cute!" The Vikings did a good enough job late in the first half to keep in manageable, only trailing by 12 at the half.
The most important part of any game is the first five minutes of the second half, and this is where Valpo put it away. The Crusaders went on a 9-2 run to open the half, and the Vikings never got closer than 14. The ugliness of the game appeared in the Vikings' part of the box score. 25.9 percent shooting, including 1-of-13 from beyond the arc. They only finished with three assists. On the flip side, Valpo shot 41.9 percent from the field and was 11-of-22 from deep. That clearly made the difference, and now Valpo holds the tiebreaker if these two end up with the same records at the end of the season. In the Horizon League, that means hosting the conference tournament, and gets you that much closer to going to the Promised Land.
VALPARAISO 59, at CLEVELAND STATE 41 02/09/2012
VALPARAISO 18-8 (11-3) -- L. Fisher 5-8 5-9 18; R. Broekhoff 7-13 4-4 24; E. Buggs 2-5 4-8 8; W. Bogan 1-3 0-0 3; R. Edwards 6-13 4-7 20; M. Kenney 1-2 0-0 2; J. Harris 0-1 0-0 0; B. Boggs 1-4 0-0 2; K. Van Wijk 0-1 0-0 0; H. Vucic 0-1 0-0 0; N. Shelton 0-0 0-0 0; N. Stegelmann 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-43 12-19 59. CLEVELAND STATE 20-5 (10-3) -- T. Harmon 3-13 0-0 7; T. Kamczyc 2-5 2-2 6; J. Montgomery 5-17 5-6 15; A. Grady 2-7 1-2 5; C. Lee 1-5 0-0 2; A. Pogue 1-1 1-4 3; M. Mason 0-4 3-4 3; D. Brown 0-2 0-0 0; D. Long 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-54 12-18 41.
Three-point goals: VALP 11-22 (W. Bogan 1-3; E. Buggs 0-1; B. Boggs 0-1; M. Kenney 0-1; R. Broekhoff 6-9; R. Edwards 4-7), CLST 1-13 (D. Brown 0-1; T. Harmon 1-6; J. Montgomery 0-5; C. Lee 0-1); Rebounds: VALP 34 (R. Broekhoff 10), CLST 32 (A. Grady 9); Assists: VALP 13 (B. Boggs 4), CLST 3 (T. Harmon 1); Total Fouls -- VALP 14, CLST 15; Fouled Out: VALP-None; CLST-A. Grady.