INDIANAPOLIS – When Valparaiso beat Wright State yesterday for the third time this year, three was the magic number. Tonight three was the magic number for Cleveland State as they beat Valpo for the third time this season 78-73 to advance to the Horizon League Championship game.
Cleveland State started the game on fire going up 10-2 at the 17:09 mark. At that point Valpo (21-13) looked like a team was playing for the second time in 24 hours. Their shots were falling a little short and they seemed to be a step behind the Cleveland State players.
The Vikings’ lead was up to 18 points when J’Nathan Bullock popped in a 3-pointer with 6:38 left in the half.
Cleveland State (21-11) was led by Cedric Jackson’s 11 first half points as they shot 51.7 percent (15-29) including 53.3 percent (8-15) from 3-point land in the first half.
At the same time Valpo was just 3-12 (25 percent) from 3-point land and shooting just 39.3 percent (11-28) for the first half.
Valpo’s Shawn Huff was amazed at how Cleveland States players were hitting outside shots as his team packed it inside to try to stop them from dominating inside.
“They were just making shots. Everyone was making shots, everyone who came in made a shot,” said a dejected Huff. “They shot over 50 percent from threes. We didn’t want them to dominate the inside and we were going to take our chances with that and they made us pay.”
The Crusaders did manage to work the deficit down to six points by half time at 39-33 by going on a 15-3 run over the last six minutes of the half.
Coming out to start the second half the Vikings went on a 9-0 run over the first 1:47 to make it 48-33 that ended when Valpo’s Shawn Huff made a layup.
At the 6:16 mark Jackson made a jumper to put Cleveland State up by nine at 63-54. Seven seconds later Valpo’s Jarryd Lloyd made a 3-pointer.
Bullock responded with a layup, then a 3-pointer by Huff, another by Lloyd followed by a layup by Lloyd and the score tied for the first time at 65-65.
Breyohn Watson came right back and hit a 3-pointer to give Cleveland State the lead for good.
“That play developed off Cedric’s (Jackson) penetration and he ended up finding me. I stepped into it and knocked it down,” explained Watson.
A few seconds later a jumper by Norris Cole and then two foul shots by Cole got the Viking lead up to seven at 72-65 with :44 left.
Two late 3-pointers by Lloyd got the score down as close as three points at 76-73 with :08 remaining but when Valpo fouled Cole he made both free throws and that was how it ended with the score at 78-73.
Cleveland State coach Gary Waters felt fortunate that his team withstood the runs that the Crusaders made.
“Let me just say that we had some big plays down the stretch by a number of people to finish that game out,” said Waters. “Even though we had leads in the game I have to give Valparaiso credit because they never gave up.”