Horizon League Basketball

Cleveland State Must Learn to Close to Survive in the Horizon League Tournament

In the iconic movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin’s character, Blake, snarls at salesman Shelley Levene (played in the movie by Jack Lemmon) with the famous line, “coffee’s for closers.”

This season, had Blake gotten in front of this season’s Cleveland State team, he’d probably be doing to exact same thing.

Nobody thought that the 2016-17 campaign would be anywhere near as disastrous as the 2015-16 season had been. And yet, at least on paper, here we stand. Heading into the Horizon League Tournament (aka Motor City Madness), the Vikings have only been able to muster the same amount of wins this year as they did last year.

The problem this season hasn’t been being competitive, as evidenced by the string of double-digit defeats last year. In fact, Cleveland State hung with all of its Horizon League foes, the lone exception being the 78-57 smackdown at the hands of Valparaiso.

What did become the running theme this season was the inability to cinch the close games. The Vikings were 2-8 in contests that were decided by five points or less, and that doesn’t include a 74-68 double-overtime loss to Wright State.

So instead of a finish in the middle of the conference pack (Full disclosure: I had originally expected CSU to finish fifth), Cleveland State ended up with a dismal 5-13 record in the Horizon League, which was only good enough for eighth.

Quite simply, the Vikings are better than they were; they just aren’t good enough.

The close losses have obviously taxed what’s left of the Cleveland State fan base, who showed up to home games in smaller numbers than at any point in time in the history of the Wolstein Center. And whatever student outreach had been done prior to the start of the season fell on deaf ears, as evidenced by the nearly empty student section during the home finale against Youngstown State.

And that has to weigh heavily on the mind of head coach Gary Waters, whose frustration has been more and more visible as the season drug on. Rumors of his future have been swirling around ever since the hire of new athletic director Mike Thomas.

Of course, Waters remains at the helm for now and the foreseeable future, and his focus is on how to get his squad to close out games. That’s because as improbable as it may sound, there is, indeed, a path to victory for the Vikings.

Their opening round opponent, YSU, is a team that CSU beat convincingly last Saturday, 69-55. Moreover, the top seed in the tournament is Oakland, and will be looming over the winner of the Vikings-Penguins contest.

As foreboding as the top seed would be to face, Cleveland State can take heart in the fact that it has already beaten the Golden Grizzlies ones this season and came close to pulling off another win at the Wolstein Center, if not for a missed three-pointer by Bobby Word.

Further down the line, the Raiders nearly fell victim to the Vikings in the aforementioned double overtime game, and Northern Kentucky eked out a two-point win on CSU. Either team could be waiting for Cleveland State if it should get past Oakland.

And even Valparaiso, which bested CSU twice, has all of a sudden become more vulnerable, as Alec Peters has been declared done for the season with a stress fracture.

None of this matters, however, unless the Vikings can do what they haven’t been able to do very well all season: close.

E-mail bob at bob [dot] mcdonald [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

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Bob has written sports, ranging from high school to college, for many years, and is the Senior Editor for basketball at Campus Pressbox. The former Cleveland State columnist at More Than a Fan: Cleveland, he co-hosts the Horizone Roundtable podcast on Fourlights.fm with Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com and co-hosted Slow Thumbs Up, a podcast that talks about the reality show Big Brother, with his wife, Jessica. He has also published a novella, Dilemma, and two novels, Flagrant Foul and The Gray Summer, which was released in April 2017.