By Jamison Schroeder
For many, winter break is a time to relax and destress after an eventful fall semester. That was not the case for the Cleveland State University men’s basketball team. The Vikings were 4-9 at the start of the break, with the rest of the schedule consisting solely of Horizon League conference games ahead of them.
The Vikings are now currently 7-13 with a 3-4 conference record, one of the best starts to conference play the team has had since the 2014-15 season. They also were able to put together an impressive three-game win streak over the break, beating Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis, Youngstown State University and the University of Detroit Mercy. With just five returning players from last year’s team, it has been quite the unexpected season for the Vikings with a surprising amount of success and chemistry already.
The first step of the win streak was an exciting 82-80 win over IUPUI after the Vikings led for a majority of the game. With eight seconds remaining, IUPUI tied it up at 80, and the Vikings stormed down the court, junior Algevon Eichelberger getting the shot off, but missed. That is when sophomore Tre Gomillion ran up to play hero when he tipped the ball in at the buzzer to win the game for the Vikings. It was the first win for the team in the Horizon League schedule, improving their record at 1-1 following a loss to University of Illinois at Chicago the game before.
Next was a home game against Youngstown State that ended with an exciting 82-74 win for the Vikings, which was also the fifth-straight win over the Penguins. Junior Torrey Patton set a new career-high with 25 points, alongside three other players who hit the double-digit points mark. The recipe for success this game was a season low in turnovers as the Vikings only turned the ball over eight times the entire game alongside both out-rebounding and out-scoring the Penguins in the paint.
Detroit Mercy was next to take on the Vikings, as they put on another impressive show in front of the home crowd, posting a 64-59 victory. This game saw junior Craig Beaudion lead the team with his career-high 17 points. He would not be the only high scorer, as Eichelberger would put up 16 points.
Offense was not the only story of the game, however, as Cleveland State’s defense put on a clinic, holding Detroit Mercy to just 30% shooting. All around, it was a great game for the Vikings on every part of the court, combining 10 turnovers with 45% shooting from the three-point line to bring a third straight win for just the second time this season.
The Vikings closed out their winter break play with an anticipated game against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. It was a Student Section Showdown night for the two teams, which led to a good turnout for an even better game. In the end, the Vikings’ win streak was broken as Oakland pulled away late in the second half leading to a 68-55 final score. Eichelberger ended with his third 20+ point game of the season and scored in double figures for the sixth game in a row.
Up next was a game on the road and a possible upset in place as the fourth-place Vikings were set to face league leading Wright State University. Cleveland State did its best to stay in the game against the Raiders, but eventually fell 75-62.
There were many positive takeaways from the game, like Eichelberger grabbing his fourth double-double of the season and Patton recording his third 20-point outing in the last six games. The Vikings also led the Raiders in rebounding, holding a 44-41 advantage even though the Raiders are the top-rebounding team in the league. Cleveland State’s main issue came in the form of turnovers as they had 15 in the game.
It has been a season that has defied the preseason polls which originally placed the Vikings in eighth place, as they currently sit in fourth place, just a game behind third-place Youngstown State. The team has been coming together extremely well with a lot of positivity flowing through the locker room, and head coach, Dennis Gates, alongside the rest of his coaching staff, are a big part of that. As the season’s end gets closer and closer, it will be exciting to see how the team continues to bring it together.