Cleveland State wraps up its season-ending home stand Wednesday at 7 p.m. with a visit from the surprisingly hot Youngstown State Penguins. YSU has won four-in-a-row and five of its last seven Horizon League games, including a January 23rd victory over the Vikings. After starting the year 2-8, the Penguins are now in 6th place in the Horizon with a record of 10-15, 7-8.
The Vikings are on a hot streak of their own, having won six in a row to climb into a third-place tie with Wright State at 19-8, and 10-5 in the division. CSU trails 2nd place Green Bay by just one game, but the Phoenix own the tie-breaker over the Vikings for the 2nd seed and the rights to a double-bye into the tournament semi-finals.
The gap was closed on Green Bay in part because of YSU as the Phoenix were oh for Ohio last week, losing at Youngstown on Thursday and in the Wolstein Center on Saturday. In order for the Vikings to overtake Green Bay, CSU would need to win-out and Green Bay would have to lose two-of-three to Valparaiso, Detroit and Wright State.
The more likely scenario has the Vikings playing for the 3rd seed, and that road became clearer last week, again thanks to the Penguins as Milwaukee joined its Wisconsin brethren in leaving Northeast Ohio 0-2. Milwaukee's Saturday loss to YSU dropped the Panthers out of the tie for third and opened the door for CSU as the Vikings own the tie-breaker with Wright State.
First things first for the Vikings will be taking care of the Penguins. CSU was without sophomore D'Aundray Brown in the January meeting and it showed. YSU fed off the energy of their crowd and controlled the tempo of the game. The Vikings struggled with taking care of the ball en route to 19 turnovers in the 64-60 defeat.
With the return of Brown, the Vikings have played a better all-around game and are back to shutting opposing teams down with defense.
As of late, the offense has revolved around Brown's classmate in sophomore Norris Cole. The 6-1 guard was named the Horizon League player of the week for his part in last week's two victories. The Dayton native averaged 17.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists on .522 (12-23) shooting from the field, .833 (5-6) from three and a perfect 6-6 from the line.
The two sophomores will look to lead the Vikings to victory in the final regular season home game for five of their teammates. Seniors J'Nathan Bullock, Cedric Jackson, Chris Moore, George Tandy and Renard Fields will play in front of the home town fans for what could be the last time.
A victory would give the Vikings 20 wins for the seventh time in school history. No CSU team was had back-to-back 20-win seasons since the Vikings posted four-in-a-row from 1984-85 to 1987-88.
It would be a fitting ending for a courageous group of seniors that raised the standards of a program that struggled mightily before their arrival.