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Cleveland State STUNS #11 Syracuse In The Carrier Dome
Cleveland State STUNS #11 Syracuse In The Carrier Dome
Returning to the scene where there majestic NCAA Tournament run started in 1986 (wins over Indiana and St. Joes), Cleveland State returned to the Carrier Dome last night to take on the 9-0 and #11 ranked Syracuse Orangemen. And the Vikings improbably remained undefeated in that building, stunning The Cuse on a 60 foot buzzer beating bank shot by Cedric Jackson to come away with a 72-69 win. Jay Pearlman was there, and relives the signature win for our readers.
Last year was the best in fifteen for CSU, improving from 21 losses to 21 wins, second in the Horizon and a bid to the NIT. And with two seniors named preseason all-conference, this year's team was projected even higher, atop the Horizon and in the "real tournament" come March. Coach Gary Waters now in the third-year of his second northern Ohio growth project, able to join three of his recruiting classes with the star he found here, J'Nathan Bullock. All of that, and there had yet to be a REALLY good win, a signature win, a program-changing win..... until now. Ok: last year's team did win their season opener at the Big East's South Florida (how can a school in Tampa be called "South" Florida?); and a neutral site November win over the ACC's Florida State. And a home January win against highly ranked Butler, perhaps offset by two losses in Hinkle. Then this fall, opportunities at Washington and West Virginia, and home to Kansas State and Butler, opportunities lost.
Then they arrived in chilly Syracuse for a game tonight against the 9-0 Orange, a Syracuse team ranked 11
in the country. And behind J'Nathan Bullock's dominating 18 points (0-9 in a first half that ended 30-30, 8-12 in the second), terrific rebounding by George Tandy (8 boards in 19 minutes), a modest tempo featuring better control and minimizing turnovers, and the perimeter shooting of Norris Cole (16 on 7-15) and freshman Jeremy Montgomery (7 on 3-4 in 16 minutes), after five straight Syracuse points, the Vikings found themselves in a tie game inbounding in the backcourt with under 5 seconds to go. Then, with Coach Waters and the Carrier Dome crowd already focused on overtime, underperforming senior guard Cedric Jackson let go a 70 foot heave with less than two seconds to go, and as the clock showed :00, that heave banked in to give CSU a signature win, perhaps a program-changing win, 72-69.
It doesn't matter that once the current string of Ivy and Patriot teams is finished touring the dome, this Syracuse team won't stay 11
in America; projected 8
in the 16-team Big East, they may not be ranked much better than 50
when all is said and done. It doesn't matter that Jim Boeheim's signature 2-3 zone could be the most easily penetrated defense in America, not 1% as good as that match-up 1-1-3 Coach Greg Kampe's undermanned Oakland University brought to Wolstein last month. And it doesn't matter that while some teams play intensely and demonstrate coaching and others play intensely as if in the schoolyard, this Syracuse team appears to do neither. None of those things matter, because a win at Syracuse is a signature win. Period.
And in addition to this win being over Syracuse, there was one more really good thing about this win: after he's struggled for six weeks, particularly in his shooting (coming in averaging 9.4, shooting 30%, 14% from the arc), this game was won on a shot by Cedric Jackson, perhaps a shot that will change the direction of his season, and in doing so that of the Vikings.
And not a moment too soon, given recent developments in the Horizon. The Syracuse game follows a week in which CSU lost to Butler at home on a buzzer beater, then blew a half-time lead in losing at West Virginia by 10. A win at rebuilding Marist two nights ago hardly registered, especially with other Horizon teams succeeding. Wright State is learning to play without injured all-league selection Vaughn Duggins, beating Toledo and Arkansas-Little Rock before losing Sunday at Wake Forest. Butler followed up its win at CSU with a win at Bradley, and then suffered its first loss of the year by 3 at Ohio State, in a game in which Gordon Hayward hit 7 treys and had one in the air to tie at the buzzer. And then there is Illinois-Chicago, which enjoyed one of the best weeks of any team in the country this past week, perhaps the best week since Coach Jimmy Collins took over. A five-game fall winning streak, the last three a 19-point win at the SEC's Vanderbilt, a home conference win over cross-town Loyola, and then a Sunday afternoon win in Atlanta at the ACC's Georgia Tech. Wow. And yes, seniors Josh Mayo and Scott VanderMeer are pretty darned good.
So back in upstate New York this night, despite the closeness of the score, for the first time this year against a major opponent, CSU was very much the better team all night long. Defensively for sure, on the boards (by one), moderating pace, in confidence and in body language. Against mainly man-to-man and in transition in the first half; after struggling against the zone in the second until the first media timeout, cutting up that zone with penetrating passes for the final 16 minutes. And in that second half, even in their shooting (58% to 56%). And while one game does not a season make, this could be the game that turns CSU's season around, a season which was in danger of becoming mildly disappointing. One thing that has been missing for six weeks is surely present now: that brilliant smile we'd become accustomed to seeing on Cedric's face.
Now comes a three-game homestand in Wolstein, regrettably the first and third of which games are against sub-Division I opponents. But that middle game against Kent State, Coach's old team, projected the class of the MAC despite a five-game losing streak against good opposition ended tonight with a home win over Youngstown State. Well, I wouldn't want to be Kent State coming in to Wolstein the night before Christmas Eve, having to face a CSU team with a smiling and productive Jackson. I suspect the pressure Cedric was shouldering has now been lifted, on the wings of a 70-foot bank shot he likely didn't "call," a shot made possible by teammate Bullock's play for 39:55, a shot that may launch CSU into the conference season smiling, with a better attitude and a better chance than anyone in the conference would have guessed before tonight's signature win.
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