The Cleveland State men's basketball team ran into a buzzsaw Saturday morning in its BracketBusters game at the Wolstein Center, as Drexel led wire-to-wire in an 69-49 decision.
"We are playing pretty average right now," said CSU head coach Gary Waters. "We have young kids that don't know some stuff. Right now we're in limbo and got to find a remedy to the problem."
It's the Vikings (20-8) fourth straight loss and third straight loss at home. Drexel (23-5) hasn't lost since Jan. 4 and have won 15 in a roll.
"It's already in their heads," said Waters. "You can't lose and not struggle, that's life."
The Vikings played again without senior guard D'Aundray Brown, who has missed four of the last five games with a groin injury.
"These freshmen got to grow up here pretty soon because we are going to need them down the stretch," said Waters. "I don't know if (Brown) is coming back anytime soon."
Ten days ago, CSU were 20-4 and a top of the Horizon League standings with an outside shot at gaining an at-large bid.
Now CSU's chance of gaining the No. 1 seed in next month's Horizon League tournament are slim-to-none. Valparaiso only needs to win one of its final two games to clinch the No. 1 seed. And CSU's chances of an at-large bid are long gone.
Without Brown, CSU has played like a completely different team and has struggled on both sides of the floor.
Drexel shot 48.9 percent for the game and went 19-of-26 (73.1 percent) at the line.
"It's all about our defense," said CSU senior guard Trey Harmon, who led the Vikings with a game-high 23 points despite playing with a broken toe. "We have been scored on too easily and we need to get stops. Until we do that its going to be tough for us."
The Vikings offense had its own struggles as they shot 27 percent (17-of-63) from the field and were 7-of-28 (25 percent) on 3-pointers.
"Right now we are offensively challenged and we don't have enough guys producing for us," said Waters, whose team has failed to score 50 points in three of their last four games.
In all four losses, CSU has gotten off to slow starts in the first half and have trailed at the half. They trailed Valparaiso, 29-17; Butler, 28-18; and Milwaukee, 50-41.
On Saturday, the Dragons scored the first six points and led 19-3 eight minutes into the game.
CSU would cut the lead down to eight (23-15) on back-to-back 3-pointers from senior guard Jeremy Montgomery and Harmon, but that would be as close as they would get to on this day.
A 9-1 run by Drexel pushed the lead back out to 16 (32-16) on sophomore forward Dartaye Ruffin's jumper. The Dragons led by as much as 19 in the first half and took a 38-22 advantage at the break.
"I don't know it's puzzling to me," said Waters on why CSU has come out slow in the first half in each of the four losses. "We missed our first two shots and then on it clutches up."
In the first half, Drexel shot 50 percent and outscored CSU 20 to 6 in the paint. The Vikings only shot 26.7 percent in the opening half as they missed 22 shots.
Freshmen guard Damion Lee scored 13 of his team-high 18 points in the first half for the Dragons.
In the second half, Drexel led by as many as 29 and never let the Vikings get closer then 19.
The Dragons also had double-digit scoring from junior center Daryl McCoy (13 points, nine rebounds), and 10 points each from sophomore guard Frantz Massenat and junior guard Chris Fouch.
Harmon didn't get much help from his teammates. Montgomery, CSU's second leading scorer at 11.1 points per game, struggled against Drexel, going 2-of-8 for six points.
"If you take J-Mo away and he doesn't produce then you only have one entity," said Waters. "The person we got to try to get more out of is Anton Grady because he is the only other one that has the potential to score."
Grady, CSU's top reserve, also struggled, finishing with six points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes. He went 2-of-6 from the field.
Waters also said he needs to get more production out of senior Aaron Pogue, who has been in a season-slump and is averaging career-lows in points (6.0) and rebounds (4.2).
Pogue, a 6-9 center, had five points and eight rebounds against the Dragons. He only made one of six shots from the field and missed several lay-ups.
"Right now we are playing with four instead of five," said Waters on Pogue's struggles. "(Pogue's) got the ability. I know he's got the ability. He's got to find a way to pull out of it."
CSU finishes Horizon play next week with three games in five days. They travel to Green Bay (7-8 HL) on Tuesday and host Detroit (10-6 HL) Thursday and Wright State (7-9 HL) Saturday.
The Vikings (10-5 HL) need to win them all to secure the No. 2 seed in the tournament and get the automatic bye into the semi-finals.
"(We know these next) three games are the most important games of the season," said Waters. "What we got to do is get better if we want to perform in this tournament. And I got to find out what can get us to play better so we can perform in this tournament."
Photo: courtesy of Cleveland State athletics
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