The Cleveland State Vikings and the Kent State Golden Flashes will meet in their annual contest Tuesday night at the Wolstein Center at 7 p.m. The series has gone in favor of Kent during the past decade but it is always a competitive game in Cleveland. The last time the game was played in Cleveland in 2006-07, Gary Waters pulled the 66-59 upset against his former squad in his first season with the Vikings. CSU is 4-2 on the season at home with the only losses coming to Kansas State and Butler and this year's match-up offers one final tune-up for both teams before the New Year rings in conference play.
After upsetting 11th ranked Syracuse on Cedric Jackson's marvelous sixty foot buzzer beater, CSU (8-4) returned home over the weekend to dismantle NCAA Division III La Roche 72-46. Senior J'Nathan Bullock continued his stellar play with 18 points and 8 rebounds in only 23 minutes. The 6-4 Flint, MI native averages a team high 14.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Twelve games into the season, Waters is still in search of a consistent rotation beyond his first seven players. In fact, CSU played only those seven in the win at Syracuse. The Vikings may be aided by the addition of freshman guard Trevon Harmon who became eligible on December 13th. A native of Pasadena, CA, Harmon was highly recruited out of high school, including Oregon State and Arizona State of the Pac-10, but eventually found his way to Cleveland while sitting out to gain his academic eligibility. The 6-1 combo guard registered 7 points and 4 rebounds on Saturday in his collegiate debut for the Vikings.
Even with the short numbers, the Vikings defense has been remarkable. CSU has held five of its last six opponents to 60 points or less and under 40-percent shooting. The Vikings are currently 29th in the nation with an opponents shooting percentage of .388.
Kent State (5-5) has returned to its traditional winning ways with two victories during the past week after an uncharacteristic five game losing streak. The Kent faithful won't empathize much with the Vikings' tough pre-season schedule as the losing streak started with Illinois, Texas A&M, Kansas and St. Mary's and all five losses came within a nine day stretch. Kent played well during most of the five losses, losing by six points three different times and staying within range of Kansas until the final minutes, but poor offensive execution and free throw shooting down the stretch and a lack of rebounding ultimately did in the Flashes.
The red flag was raised on December 6th in a bad home loss to Western Carolina in which Kent blew a ten point lead in the second half. The loss dropped the Flashes to 3-5. Since that time, first year coach Gino Ford has guided his team to back-to-back victories over Youngstown State and UNC-Greensboro, but the Flashes have yet to put together two complete halves of basketball.
Kent is again led by reigning MAC Player of the Year Al Fisher. The 6-1 senior averaged 13.9 points and 4 assists a year ago and has upped his scoring average to 17.1 per game so far this season. The dynamic guard shoots only 30-percent (15-50) from three but is effective by penetrating and getting to the line. Fisher is an 83-percent (152-184) free throw shooter during his two-year Kent career. It will be an intense match-up when CSU's Jackson, a great athlete and a physical defender that averages 2.8 steals after finishing ninth in the nation a year ago with 2.6 per game, goes head-to-head with the creative and ultra quick Fisher.
Fisher's sidekick in the backcourt is Chris Singletary. The 6-4 Chicago native was a solid performer last year, averaging 10.3 points while shooting 56-percent from the floor and 40-percent from three en route to all-MAC recognition. Singletary's shooting is down a bit this season but he has improved his scoring to 15.8 per game and is getting to the line an impressive 5.8 times per game while chipping in 4.1 rebounds per contest.
The wildcard for the Flashes is JUCO transfer Tyree Evans. The 6-3 guard became eligible at the semester break and quickly made an impact. In his debut against UNC-Greensboro, Evans poured in 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting and supplanted Fisher as Kent's go-to man down the stretch. The Virginia native broke J.J. Redick's state career scoring record and is third all-time in single season scoring behind only Allen Iverson and Moses Malone with 884 points. Evans was a high school all-American and a four star recruit out of Richmond.
Following the showdown with Kent State, the Vikings remain at home for their next contest against Notre Dame (OH) on Saturday December 27th at 1 p.m.