By Evan Meyer
Coming into their game Saturday afternoon against the Valparaiso Crusaders, the Cleveland State Vikings had a chance to build some momentum in the second half of the Horizon League season and into the upcoming league tournament.
Instead, the visitors from Northwest Indiana scored the game’s first 12 points and never looked back as they defeated CSU 80-72 at the Wolstein Center before a national television audience.
Valparaiso (19-6, 9-2 HL) swept the season series from the Vikings for the second consecutive season, and kept a two-game lead in the league over Detroit and Wright State.
“As a coach, I have been blessed to be coaching a great group of guys,” Valpo head coach Bryce Drew said after the game. “Our seniors really responded, and the rest of the team followed them. Our guys battled through adversity and I am really proud of them.”
Five VU players scored in double figures, led by senior forward Ryan Broekhoff who had 15 points. Senior Kevin Van Wijk added 14, junior Bobby Capobianco came off the bench to score 13 while senior guards Will Bogan and Erik Buggs each scored 11.
Cleveland State (1213, 4-7 HL) saw their two-game winning streak come to an emphatic end and have lost five of their last seven games.
“I told them in the locker room (After the game) ‘Don’t worry about this. The next time we play this team, we will beat this team,” CSU head coach Gary Waters said afterwards.
Freshman guard Bryn Forbes scored a career high 24 points, which included going a perfect four-of-four from three-point range. Sophomore Marlin Mason came off the bench to score 16 while senior forward Tim Kamczyc had 10 along with eight rebounds.
VU’s start was eerily similar to the last time these two teams met in this building a year ago when the Crusaders scored the first 17 points en route to a 59-41 victory.
It took almost six minutes for the Vikings to score their first points of the game; that coming from Forbes on a jumper. They missed their first eight shots and six of them were uncontested layups.
“We came out with a lot of energy and got some stops early that enabled us to get into our transition game,” Drew said.
“If you are down 12 and you miss all these layups against a good team you cannot do that (and expect to win),” Waters said.
With the Crusaders holding a 20-8 lead at the 11:54 mark on a layup by Van Wijk, CSU made their first run of the contest narrowing the margin to six (20-14) at the 9:44 mark on consecutive threes by Mason from the top of the key, then from Forbes from the right arc.
Valpo made sure that run was short-lived as they went on a 13-1 run of their own to open their largest lead 33-15 at the 6:30 mark on two free throws from Broekhoff.
CSU used a 12-5 spurt to close to within 11 at 41-30 thanks to a Kamczyc layup, but Capobianco, who scored 11 of his points in the first half, scored the final three points of the period on a tip-in and a free throw to give the Crusaders a 44-30 lead at intermission.
In the first half, VU was simply amazing from the field, hitting 60 percent from the floor (14-of-23) and hitting six of their first seven shots. CSU did not shoot poorly, going 45 percent in the opening half (9-for-20) and also held a narrow rebounding edge 11-10. What was killing them was the turnovers as they had 12 which lead to 19 VU points.
“We weren’t playing disciplined defense,” Waters said.
At the start of the second half, Valpo opened a 17-point lead on three occasions the last being 55-38 when Capobianco hit a jumper with 11:41 remaining.
The Vikings then made a run to get back into the game, using an 11-2 run to close to within nine 59-50 on a pair of Kamczyc free throws at the 8:05 mark.
That would be the closest the Vikings would get for the remainder of the game until Forbes hit a three-pointer in the final seconds to make the final margin eight points.
VU’s lead fluctuated, between nine and 13 points in the final moments of the half, but they were never really challenged.
CSU shot better in the second half going 14-of-29 (48.3 percent), was at 46.9 (23-of-49) over the 40 minutes and had a decisive 33-20 advantage in the battle of the boards. However, they turned the ball over 17 times (only five times in the second half) but it cost them 27 points.
The Crusaders ended the contest shooting 55.1 percent from the field, the highest percentage the Vikes have given up all season.
When asked about his defense in the game, Waters said, “That junk I seen out there today, was the worst junk I have seen in history, and that I put that on me.”
Waters though was playing with a heavy heart as he was in Detroit to attend the funeral of his aunt, Joyce Smith, and did not get to game until 30 minutes before tipoff.
CSU gets back into action on Tuesday night when they travel to Detroit to battle the Titans.
FROM EVAN’S GAMEBOOK:
KEY MOMENT: Valparaiso scoring the game’s first 12 points and never looked back.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: BRYN FORBES-CLEVELAND STATE. The freshman guard from Lansing, Michigan scored a career high 24 points shooting 8-of-10 from the field including a perfect 4-of-4 from three point range. Forbes has scored double digits in 17 of his last 19 games.
KEY STAT OF THE GAME: Cleveland State turning the ball over 17 times leading to 27 Valparaiso points.