March 8, 2008

Vikings Outlast Valpo, 78-73, To Advance To Title Game

March 8, 2008

Final Stats

Contact: Brian McCann

INDIANAPOLIS, IND. - Cedric Jackson and J'Nathan Bullock combined to score 41 points to lead Cleveland State past Valparaiso, 78-73, on Saturday night in Hinkle Fieldhouse. The win advances CSU to the title game of the Horizon League Championship for the first time in the 14 years of being a league member.

Cleveland State will play regular season champion and 12th-ranked Butler (28-3) in the championship contest on Tuesday, March 11 at 9:00 p.m. in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler defeated UIC, 66-50, in the other semi-final on Saturday.

The Vikings (21-11) never trailed in the contest, leading by as many as 18 points in the first half and 15 in the second stanza, but it took some last second heroics after Valpo rallied to even the game at 65-65 with 2:27 left.

"Both teams wanted this game real bad, but as I told everybody last week, we (Cleveland State) are a team on a mission right now and these guys weren't going to let it end in the semi-finals," CSU head coach Gary Waters said.

Jackson led CSU with 22 points, his seventh 20-point game of the year, while Bullock added 19 points and eight rebounds.

"Cedric and J'Nathan have been our leaders al season long and today was no different," Waters said. "When both of those guys play well, we become a very hard team to beat."

Freshman Norris Cole continued his strong play of late, finishing with 11 points, his fourth straight game in double figures. Four of those points coming at the line in the final 44 seconds.

Jarryd Loyd led the Crusaders with 25 points, 17 of which came in the final 7:11 of the game. Shawn Huff and Urule Igbavboa added 15 points apiece.

The Viking stormed out of the locker room ready to play and showed the fresh legs that came with playing just one game in the last 13 days. CSU opened early leas of 10-2 (17:09) and 20-9 (13:17) before running off 11 straight points that gave them a 36-18 lead with 6:38 left in the first half.

Not known for their perimeter shooting, eight of the Viking's first 14 baskets were three-pointers, including three during the 11-0 run.

But just when you counted out the Crusaders, who were playing their third game this week and fifth in nine days, Valpo came back, running off 13 straight points to close to within 36-31 with 2:49 left.

The Vikings would take a 39-33 into halftime and then open the second stanza by scoring the first nine points to rebuild the lead back to 48-33 with 18:13 left.

The Crusaders again refused to give up, trailing 61-52 with 7:35 left.

Loyd took over after that, scoring 10 points during a 13-4 Crusader run that knotted the game at 65 with 2:50 play.

But the Vikings refused to give into to Valpo and the heavily partisan crowd in Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse as Breyohn Watson gave CSU the lead for good on a three-pointer with 2:27 left and Cole followed with a basket and two free throws to put the Vikings ahead, 72-65 with 1:14 left.

"Breyohn really stepped up and hit an important shot," Waters said. "But he's a senior and in order to become champions, you need you seniors to step up. He has really played some soid ball the last couple of weeks."

The Crusaders would hit a pair of treys down the stretch, but timely free throw shooting by the Vikings - CSU made its last nine free throws - kept Valpo at bay.

Cleveland State turned in one of its best offensive performances of the season, shooting .529 from the field (27-51), .526 from three-point (10-19) and .778 from the line (14-18), en route to scoring 78 points, the most in its 17 road games this season.

Valparaiso on the other hand, struggled from the field, shooting just .397 (23-58), including an eight-for-26 effort from three-point (.308).

With Bullock, Jackson and freshman D'Aundray Brown grabbing a game-high eight rebounds each, CSU had a decisive 34-27 rebounding advantage.

The Vikings will remain in Indianapolis and practice until Tuesday's title game. It will be CSU's first trip to the league championship game since dropping a 90-87 decision to Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) in the 1986-87 season.

Tickets for the championship contest are available by contacting the CSU Athletic Ticket Office at (216) 687-4848.

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