Edwards has 24 points
By Tom Mieskoski
Improving defense and hot shooting from three-point distance and the foul line led Cleveland State to a 70-53 win against Illinois-Chicago Monday night at the Wolstein Center.
Rob Edwards scored 15 of his 24 points in the second half — finishing 4 of 7 from 3-point distance and making all six of his free throw attempts.
Andre Yates added 11 points, Vinny Zollo 9 and Demonte Flannigan 8 for CSU (7-13, 2-5 Horizon League), which won its second straight conference game.
The Vikings shot just 37.7 percent overall, but were 9 of 16 from long range and 15 of 18 from the foul line.
UIC (2-15, 0-6 HL) also shot 37.7 percent, but were just 2 of 7 (28.6 percent) from long range. They missed 17 shots from the charity stripe.
The Flames had 16 turnovers in the game, leading to 19 points off turnovers for the Vikings.
"I think our guys are starting to understand how important defense is," said Vikings head coach Gary Waters. "We were really struggling there. At Northern Kentucky, we held them to 40 percent and today we held them to 37 percent (20 of 53). If we can do that constantly we have (a chance to win the game)."
It was a far cry from CSU's last homestand when Waters called the defense "horrendous."
Since then, Waters has changed the defense from a fullcourt press for 40 minutes and went back to just playing halfcourt defense.
"What I wanted to see the last two games was to see how we sit down and play (halfcourt) defense," said Waters. "And we are starting to play (defense) a little. (Once they learn that) then you can add the press at certain times."
It wasn't a true wire-to-wire victory, but CSU led for the final 36 minutes.
Leading by 10 at the half, CSU put the game away with a 25-13 run to start the second half that pushed the lead out to 22.
The Vikings outscored the Flames 38-31 in the final 20 minutes.
"We are still light years away," said Waters. "I don't think we had a game this year (against a DI opponent) that we extended away the lead. We should have done that at Northern Kentucky. We had a 10 point lead with two minutes to go, but turned it over three times and missed five free throws.
"When you take care of the things you are supposed to take care of you can extend the lead. That allows other people to play."
The Vikings played 13 different players against the Flames, with 10 of them scoring in the game.
UIC held leads of 2-0 and 3-2.
A Zollo three-pointer gave the Vikings the lead for good, 5-3.
UIC closed within 14-13, but CSU responded with a 18-9 run to close the half, capped off by a deep three-pointer from NBA distance by Yates, allowed the Vikings to take a 32-22 advantage at the break.
Neither team shot particularly well in the first half.
CSU made 37 percent of its shots in the opening half, while UIC made 36.4 percent. But the Vikings were much more efficient from three-point distance (4 of 8) and from the foul line (8 of 11), while the Flames made only 1 of 2 shots from long range and struggled at the charity stripe (5 of 9).
Three straight three-pointers from Edwards, Yates and Edwards again gave CSU a 57-35 lead.
The Vikings made 5 of 8 shots from long range in the second half and made all seven of its free throw attempts, while UIC was 1 of 5 from long range and missed 13 shots at the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes.
Dikembe Dixson led the Flames with 15 points, 10 of them came in the opening half.
"I thought we should of done a better job on him," Waters said about Dixson who was 6 of 18 shooting from the field. "We let him drive a lot."
The Vikings held Dixson in check in the second half as he made just 2 of 11 shots from the field in the final 20 minutes.
Tai Odiase was the only other Flame in double-figures with 11 points, to go along with 11 boards.
New court: CSU broke in a new basketball court on Monday. They ordered a new court before the season began, but it didn't arrive until this week.
Slumpbuster: Edwards broke out of a 11 of 36 (30.5 percent) shooting slump in his previous four games. It was his best game since scoring a career-high 26 points against Detroit on Jan. 4.
"It was good to see that," Waters said about Edwards who was 7 of 14 shooting from the field. "I like this because we are getting ready to play a team on Sunday in Youngstown State that can really put up points on the board. And we need somebody to score points."
Next up: The Vikings will look for its third straight victory Sunday afternoon at the Q against a struggling YSU squad that lost by 31 points to Valparaiso on Monday.
The Penguins, who have been playing without star Bobby Hain, have dropped its last three games by an average of 29 points.
"They are going to make us shoot the ball," Waters said about facing YSU's 2-3 zone. "I wish I could send this (CSU shooting 9 of 16 from long range against UIC) to the next game, then we will be okay."