Wednesday, March 11

Cleveland State Vikings: 2009 Horizon League Champions

Now that's excitement! The CSU Vikings won a closely-fought 57-54 decision over 17th-ranked Butler on Tuesday night to secure their first visit to the NCAA Tournament since 1986. Congratulations to Coach Waters and the Vikings!

Cleveland State showed a lot of character in this game - Butler had already beaten them twice this year (by 2 points each time) and the very prospect of facing the Bulldogs in their own gym had to be a daunting one for Cleveland State. What's more, Butler knocked CSU out of tourney contention last year in the exact same scenario, so the Vikings had to be anxious at the chance to defeat their nemesis. The Vikings trailed most of the first half, usually anywhere from 2-8 points, but never let the lead balloon. They finally gained the upper hand in the second half thanks to stellar play from Tournament MVP Cedric Jackson, who finished the game with 19 points (on 7-12 shooting, 4-8 for three), 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Jeremy Montgomery chipped in 11 points thanks to some long-distance accuracy.

The end of the game was thrilling and, accoring to the melodramatic (though generally insightful) broadcasters, excruciating. Cleveland state managed to go out front by a score of 56-50 with three minutes to play, and pretty much failed to do anything offensively from that point on. Butler slowly whittled the lead to 54-50 with a pair of 1-2's from the line and a basket. CSU finally connected on the front end of a 1 and 1 (a rule I do not like), putting them up 57-54 with about 15 seconds to play. Butler got off a couple of contested threes before time expired and Cleveland State celebrated a satisfying victory and their first NCAA appearance in 23 years.

Butler, for their part, is a solid, classy team - I never once found myself even close to hating them like I typically do with my teams' rivals. They will almost certainly earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament despite not receiving the Horizon's automatic bid. Good luck to the Bulldogs, and Go Vikes!

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