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Viking men still fighting for Horizon League title

Despite losing three straight conference games, CSU trying to fight their fate

February 16, 2012

By Jim Berdysz

It was nowhere close to the kind of week Cleveland State Vikings head coach Gary Waters and his team first envisioned. What started out as a half game lead in the Horizon League, and a confident five-game winning streak ended in heartbreak. Three losses to rivals Valparaiso, Butler, and most recently Milwaukee, gave the Vikings their first three-game losing streak in two years, pushing CSU back into second place in the conference.

“It’s a tough loss for our team to take,” Waters said of the loss to Butler. “Not because I didn’t think that team [BForward Anton Grady is key for CSU down the stretch.utler] beat us today, I think we just beat ourselves.”

The Vikings managed to score just 90 points combined in the two games against Valpo and Butler, giving CSU their first back-to-back home losses in more than two seasons. The team’s 41 points scored against the Crusaders was also the lowest point total in a game in Waters’ six years as head coach. Against Milwaukee, time proved it was not on the Vikings side, as the team could not overtake the Panthers losing 86-84 in the final few seconds of game.

“When you lose a game and you’re a winning team, you lose a piece of yourself,” Waters said. “This team has to regroup and in this league, you really don’t have much time to recuperate mentally.”

After shooting just 25 percent from the floor against Valpo, CSU improved their overall shooting percentage each of the last two games, only to fall victim of defeat in the two games by just five points combined.

“It’s very frustrating,” senior guard Jeremy Montgomery said. “We got to go back to the drawing board, get our minds right and comeback with intensity.”

Not only have the Vikings struggled to shoot the ball of late, but the team has missed key lay-ups and has not taken advantage of opposing offensive rebounds and turnovers.

“You can’t miss nine lay-ups in the first half and expect to win a basketball game,” Waters said of the loss to Valpo. “When you miss nine lay-ups that’s either a lack of focus or you’re uptight, and there was no reason to be uptight when you’re at home.”

And if that wasn’t enough, CSU will also be without guard D’Aundray Brown for almost two weeks, losing the senior to a groin injury he suffered earlier this month. Before the injury, Brown was third on the team averaging 10.8 points per game and played a big role as one of the Vikings starting five. Waters noted the team hopes to have Brown back at the earliest by the game against Detroit on Feb. 23.

“It’s all about chemistry,” senior guard Tre Harmon said. “Without D’Aundray that kind of takes away some things that we normally do on offense. We just got to get better offensively, there’s no question we’re really out of sync right now.”

To get better offensively, the Vikings will lean on freshman forward Anton Grady to replace Brown, hoping to regain that spark on offense down the stretch. The former Cleveland Central Catholic star recorded his fourth double-double of the season against Butler, scoring 18 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in place of the senior.

If CSU have any chance of regaining the top spot in the Horizon League, Grady will need to keep putting up double-doubles and hope the rest of the offense can mesh around him like they have for most of the season with Brown.

With a record of 20-7 overall and 10-5 in the Horizon League, the Vikings find themselves almost in the same scenario they went through just one year ago. At this time last season, CSU had just two more wins (22-5) and boasted just one more win in the conference. In fact, the team also lost back-to-back games to both Valpo and Butler at one point last season as well.

One big difference? Current Miami Heat rookie and former Vikings star Norris Cole.

“You’re always going to miss Norris because of all the things he has done for the program and what he’s all about,” Waters said. “This team has its own identity. They go out and they play it and play hard on the defensive end.”

Looking at both CSU teams though, it’s obvious this year’s team lacks a premiere scorer like Cole, who averaged 21.7 points per game during his senior season. In fact, the Vikings currently do not have a player in the top 10 in the Horizon League in scoring, and just one player in Harmon averaging 12 points per game. Even with that they sit in almost the exact same spot they were one season ago, hopeful for a different outcome this time.

“There’s a word called ‘fate’ out there and it’s trying to come after us,” Waters said. “You have to fight this fate and fight as hard as you can. I told my guys that we worked too hard and we’re going to fight our fate.”