After Cleveland State's 78-70 loss to Robert Morris on Tuesday, CSU head coach Gary Waters spent over an hour after the game talking to his players in the locker room trying to get their heads right and ready to face No. 6 West Virginia.
So what did Waters tell his players? "I told them to forget all this other stuff. We have a chance to play West Virginia this weekend and win a basketball game," he said. "So what I had to do is point out to them some of the things we didn't do right (against Robert Morris) that we need to correct for (West Virginia) if we are to have a chance (to win).
"I had to make them believe when they left this place they have a chance. If not, we might as well not play the game."
When CSU hosts No. 6 West Virginia Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN360.com) in the third annual John McLendon Scholarship Classic, it will be the highest ranked opponent to ever play in the Wolstein Center.
It will also be the first of three straight games against nationally ranked opponents for the Vikings. CSU will have road games at No. 18 Ohio State (8-2) on Dec. 22 and at No. 17/22 (AP, ESPN) Kansas State (9-1) on Dec.29.
The Vikings haven't faced a high-ranking opponent like WVU at home since No. 7 Michigan on Nov. 30, 1996 in the first game ever played in the Wolstein Center. The Wolverines edged the Vikings, 80-74, that day.
"It's a very good opportunity to go against a high major team in your facility. If you can mustard up enough confidence and support from your fans then you have a chance," said Waters.
The Mountaineers (7-0), who are coached by the legendary Bob Huggins, are coming off their finals week and haven't played a game since Dec. 12.
"(In a Bob Huggins team), you are going to get kids playing hard and physical. They take it to you," said Waters.
So how do you beat a West Virginia? "I think the only way you have a chance to beat a team like (West Virginia) is you have to be at your very best and they have to be at there lowest point in that particular game," he said.
What will these three games against nationally ranked opponents going to tell Waters about his team? "Either we will come out of this being a little more shell shocked about our abilities, or we will come out of this and say we have competed against high majors and held our own," said Waters.
Waters on McLendon: Waters said before he became the head coach at CSU he heard of John McLendon, but didn't really know much about him. "Since I got here I read three of his books," said Waters. "(Black coaches and players) wouldn't be doing what we are doing today if it wasn't for a person like John McLendon."
McLendon, who passed away in 1999, broke down racial barriers in college basketball becoming the first African-American head coach at a predominantly white institution when CSU hired him in 1966.
He coached at CSU at the end of his Hall of Fame career from 1966-69 compiling a record of 27-42 (.391). Later, McLendon would return to CSU in 1991 as an athletic adviser until his death.
Among some of his many accomplishments includes coaching Tennessee State to three-straight NAIA championships (1957-59), becoming the first African-American to coach a professional team (Cleveland Pipers, 1962), and he was the innovator of the fast break and four-corners offense that Dean Smith used to win national championships at North Carolina.
Defense: Even Waters can't explain what has happened to his defense. "Right now, I am baffled to why we are not holding teams down to the way we are capable of doing," he said after the Robert Morris lost.
Last season, CSU won games with its defense shutting down opponents, allowing 59.5 points per game (third in Horizon League) and holding teams to 41.1 percent (fourth) from the field.
This season, CSU's defense has turned a complete 360 from a year ago and has been a work in progress. The Vikings are giving up an uncharacteristic 70.4 points per game (ninth) and allowing teams to shoot 48.3 percent (ninth) from the field.
Seven (out of 11) opponents this season have shot 50 percent or better against the Vikings. Waters said he has never had a season in his career where opponents have shot 50 percent from the field in seven games.
There are three areas on defense that CSU has been struggling with all season: rebounding, fouling too much, and allowing too much middle penetration.
"Our problems (defensively) has been there's truly a disconnect. We have guards that have played competitively. Then we have a new bunch of guys inside who are learning to play competitively and learning to play our game," said Waters.
Starting line-up change: Before the Wilberforce game, Waters switched the starting line-up replacing Jared Cunningham with Nigel Ajere. Waters made the move to try to improve CSU's defense by having the more athletic Ajere along the side of Aaron Pogue.
"I thought Jared was struggling a little bit and I wanted to get him some freedom. So I told him I'm going to bring you off the bench and when you come off the bench be freer and shoot the basketball," said Waters. "Nigel has been playing much, much better, getting a better grasp of what we are doing out there. So we wanted to put him on the floor."
Klein Watch: When CSU women's basketball player Kailey Klein takes the Wolstein floor tonight (after the men's game) against Indiana (7-3), she needs 235 points to break CSU's all-time women's career scoring record held by Dianne Foster (1,851, 1979-84).
Random Notes: CSU is 0-2 in the McLendon Scholarship Classic.... The Vikings are 5-30 all-time against ranked opponents, including a 1-7 record at home.... Under Waters, CSU is 4-6 against Top 25 teams.... The Horizon League is 3-4 against teams from the Big Ten. With Butler having wins against Northwestern and Ohio State. And Green Bay defeating Wisconsin.