The final year of what has been called the bracket buster series of college basketball came to a conclusion for Cleveland State with a 60-54 win on the road Saturday against Western Illinois behind 16 points each from Vikings Bryn Forbes and Charlie Lee before 4,259 at Western Hall.
The bracket buster idea, which was to allow mid-major teams to make a statement to help secure NCAA tournament spots, will come to and end after 11 years that saw the Vikings play as far away as Northridge, Cal.
It ended with CSU meeting an old rival from days in the AMCU and Mid-Continent Conference when the two met twice a season.
The first meeting of the host Leathernecks and Vikings since CSU took an 85-68 decision back on Feb. 19, 1994, saw WIU race out to a 15-4 advantage only to see the Vikings cut the deficit to 29-27 at intermission behind a pair of 3-pointers from Lee.
That helped offset an 8-point first half from WIU’s Don McAvoy, who was held scoreless in the second half with CSU’s Sebastian Douglas assigned to the Leatherneck.
Cleveland State, which had lost four of five before its visit to Macomb, Ill., then took command over the Leathernecks, who were in search of their 20th win of the season.
After a basket by Forbes tied the gamer at 31-31, CSU’s only senior, Tim Kamczyc got a 3-point play that first retied the game at 33-33 and and concluded with a free throw that pushed the Vikings into a 34-33 lead they never surrendered.
Forbes then became the key, using a pair of 3-pointers and a field goal from Forbes while Junior Lomomba addded a pair of field goals that allowed the Vikings to lead 46-42 with just over eight minutes left.
The CSU advantage never got smaller than two points the rest of the way as the Vikings were able to hit six of eight free throws in the final 30 seconds to secure the win.
While the Leathernecks got nothing from McAvoy in the second half, WIU found Adam Link lead the hosts with 15 points with Terell Parks getting 12 and Ceola Clark another 10 for the Summit League’s second place team.
Western Illinois, with a 11-3 league record, is 1/2 game behind South Dakota State (12-3) in the Summit League.
With the win, the Vikings, only the second visitor to win at Western Hall, move to 14-16 overall. All that is left is a lone road game in Chicago on Saturday at Loyola. While the Vikings will know more about their fate on Tuesday entering the Saturday game, the team’s seeding will be much more clear.
For Cleveland State to still have any shot at a first round Horizon League tournament game, Illinois-Chicago must have lost its Tuesday game against Wright State. That would leave wiggle room for the Vikings to sneak into the sixth spot and that includes hosting a first round game. If the Flames fall to Wright State, it would set up Saturday with UIC hosting Detroit. A Detroit win over UIC and a CSU victory at Loyola would serve the Vikings into that first round home game which would be March 5 at the Wolstein Center.