CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland State University men's basketball team used a strong defensive effort and a balanced offensive performance to run past Niagara, 82-60, in the Vikings' non-conference finale Wednesday evening in the Wolstein Center.
CSU never trailed in winning its third straight home game while simultaneously stopping Niagara's three-game winning streak.
"It was a terrific win," head coach Dennis Felton said. "They're a very potent offensive team, they play kind of a free-wheeling style, and they have some dynamic talented guards that can light you up from three. We did a good job tonight with them when you look at their 32% shooting. I thought Niagara settled for some pretty tough threes, and I'd like to think that's partially because we made things tough on them."
Niagara came into the game averaging 71 points per game as the Purple Eagles had hit at least that number in each of their past four games. The Vikings held them to a season-low 60 points, the third time in four games CSU has held its opponent to 64 points or fewer. CSU also held its opponent below 30 percent shooting from distance for the seventh consecutive game as Niagara was 5-of-27 from deep.
Sophomore Tyree Appleby led five Vikings in double figures with 16 points while tying for team high honors with eight rebounds and adding four assists.
Sophomore Stefan Kenic and freshman Rashad Williams both had 14 points, junior Kasheem Thomas tallied 13 on 6-of-9 shooting from the floor while junior Jaalam Hill added 11 and tied Appleby with eight rebounds.
Five different Vikings helped CSU open up an 11-4 lead six minutes into the game as both teams started slowly offensively. CSU led 18-11 before Niagara scored five straight points to cut the margin to two, but the hosts responded with five straight of their own.
CSU's lead hovered in the four-to-six point vicinity for much of the remainder of the half as the Vikings took a 32-28 lead into the break.
Niagara hit a three to supply the first points of the second half, but that was as close as they would get. Appleby scored five points on CSU's next two possessions to help keep the lead.
The Vikings would extend their lead into double digits for the first time at 43-33. They let Niagara hang around to a degree in the middle of the second half as the lead fluctuated between six and 11 points.
Niagara cut CSU's lead to five at 63-58 with just over six minutes left, but Williams hit a three on the next possession, and redshirt senior Dontel Highsmith added two free throws to push the margin back into double figures.
The Vikings won the game going away as they ended the contest on a 14-0 run.
Kenic has hit double figures in scoring in 10 of the past 11 games while Hill has at least eight rebounds in four of the past five.
CSU's bench outscored that of its opponent for the 10th time in 13 games. Freshman Deante Johnson had a solid effort that saw him have four points, five rebounds, two assists, no turnovers and a steal in 13 minutes.
"We're going to have a very, very singular focus on getting better defensively and getting tougher defensively, and that includes rebounding," Felton said of the team's upcoming layoff. "Tonight was a great defensive effort, but they still got 22 second-chance points."
The Vikings will open Horizon League play with a pair of games on the final weekend of the year, beginning with a matchup against Oakland Friday, Dec. 28.