Flannigan scores final eight points to lift CSU to victory
By Tom Mieskoski
Gary Waters' young Cleveland State squad are starting to come together.
Coming off a big road win at Loyola of Chicago on Wednesday, CSU battled Belmont, an NCAA tournament team a year ago and ranked No. 11 in this week's CollegeInsider's Mid-Major top 25 poll, toe-to-toe until the final seconds Saturday with the Vikings pulling out a 67-65 nonconference win at the Wolstein Center.
With CSU's offense struggling to score late in the second half, it was junior Demonte Flannigan who stepped up and carried the Vikings on his back. The Villa-Angela-St. Joseph product scored CSU's last eight points, including the game-winner.
"I just wanted to win (the game)," said Flannigan about scoring the last eight points for the Vikings.
With 3.8 seconds left and the game tied at 65-65, Flannigan got the ball on the block, spun to his left, then attempted a left handed hook shot off the glass to give CSU its biggest win of the season.
"That's what we drew up in the huddle," said Flannigan who led the Vikings with 16 points and eight rebounds. "In my mind, I just wanted to finish it strong and get the bucket,"
Flannigan made 8 of 14 shots from the field.
"They executed it to perfection," Waters said about Flannigan's game-winner. "I thought Terrell (Hales) threw a good pass and Demonte finished the shot. It was pretty unique because he finished to his left with his left hand and that really is a strong move."
Belmont had one last chance to tie the game, but couldn't get a shot off.
With 1.8 seconds left, Jeff Laidig threw the fullcourt inbounds pass too long and Dylan Windler could only knock the ball down as it was going out of bounce. CSU's Vinny Zollo came up with the loose ball and swatted the ball out of bounce as the buzzer sounded.
Freshmen Rob Edwards had 15 points for the Vikings (4-7). He was 6 of 8 shooting, including three from long range.
CSU also had strong games from junior Andre Yates (11 points) and sophomore walk-on Tim Hasbargen (10 points).
Sophomore Mack Mercer came off the bench and scored 15 of his career-high 20 points in the second half. The 6-foot-9, 225-pound post player made 7 of 18 shots from the field.
Junior Taylor Barnette added 16 for the Bruins (7-6), while sophomore Amanze Egekeze contributed 15.
Belmont's leading scorers Evan Bradds (18.0 ppg) and Craig Bradshaw (16.4) combined to go 2 of 11 shooting for 11 points. The Bruins shot 34.5 percent overall and was 6 of 23 on 3-point attempts.
"I thought that was the game," said Waters about shutting down Bradds and Bradshaw. "This is the first time I felt good about our defense. We held them to 34 percent and this is one of the best offensive teams in basketball. I thought we shook them up."
Belmont entered the game as one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. They rank in the top 50 in points (82.6), field goal percentage (50 percent), assists (16.8), and three-pointers made per game.
Bradds, a Jamestown, Ohio native, was in foul trouble for most of the game and went without a field goal in the first half. He didn't score a basket until 8:25 left in the second half and fouled out with 1:08 to go. He had four points.
Bradds entered the game leading the nation in field goal percentage (.733). He was 1 of 5 from the field against CSU.
Hales guarded Bradshaw for most of the game and made him work for his points.
Bradshaw went scoreless in the first half in 13 minutes. He scored his first points with 15:48 to go in the second half, knocking down a pair of free throws. The Ohio Valley Conference Preseason Player of the Year made only 1 of 6 shots from the field and finished with seven points.
"He did a great job," Waters said about Hales' defensive effort on Bradshaw. "It was a tough game for Bradshaw,"
CSU led for 36 minutes, but Waters young squad couldn't close out a 13 point lead with 9:10 to go.
"We kind of panicked down the stretch, because they haven't been there before," said Waters. "We turned it over three times that really hurt us."
The turning point of the game came when Edwards picked up his fourth foul with 9:22 to go and went to the bench. Without CSU's leading scorer on the floor, the offense struggled to score points.
Edwards' fourth foul also put Belmont into the double-bonus. The Bruins chipped away at the lead, making 8 of 9 free throws down the stretch. The Vikings only attempted two free throws in the second half.
A pair of free throws from Mercer capped off a 19-4 run that gave Belmont a 65-63 lead with 49 seconds to go.
CSU tied the game at 65-65 on a right-handed hook shot from Flannigan.
Then on Belmont's next possession, CSU made a huge defensive stop.
Coming out of a timeout, Mercer attempted a hook shot, but he shot it over the rim and Zollo came up with the rebound.
"I thought we did a good job defending that last play," said Waters. "Demonte played good defense on Mercer."
That set up Flannigan's late game heroics.
In the first half, CSU put together one of its best halves of the season.
They shot 51.6 percent in the opening half and took a 40-31 lead at the intermission. The 40 points were the most CSU has scored in the first half this season.
Edwards and Hasbargen scored 10 points a piece to pace CSU's offense, while Flannigan contributed eight points.
"I told them before the game if we keep them into the 60's, they can't beat us," said Waters. "If we get them in the 70's and 80's, we're in trouble."
A three-pointer from freshmen walk-on Daniel Levitt gave CSU its largest lead of the game, 59-46.
Belmont tied the game at 61-61 on a three-pointer from Egekeze and they took their first lead of the game with 2:43 left on a putback from Mercer.
A Flannigan tip-in tied the game at 63-63.
Next up: CSU host Bowling Green on Wednesday afternoon. Tipoff is 1 p.m.