And 1: Stanford 76, Cleveland State 65

Kevin Danna brings his in-depth insights and observations after Stanford's 76-65 win over Cleveland State in the First Round of the National Invitation Tournament.

This might sound extremely weird, but this was a day I had been looking forward to for three years. At last, a meaningful postseason game had arrived! It was the NIT, which, unlike the CBI, actually meant something. Play well enough, and you have a shot to play in the Garden. A shot to improve team cohesiveness. A chance to send the seniors off in style.

Yeah, this was postseason basketball, fool!

The somewhat tried-and-true five of Brown, Randle, Zimmermann, Owens, and Mann held their players-only huddle right before tip. Whatever was said in that huddle worked; Stanford started the game shot out of a cannon.

Right off the bat, Stanford ran one of its smoothest plays all season on the first possession of the game with Jarrett Mann hitting an on-the-move-to-the-left-block Josh Owens for the easy slam. Oh the ball movement! Then it was Andrew Zimmermann, going Left Side City for a big time, BCS-type move to get the finish from mid-range. They don't see that in the Horizon League (ok, they probably do, whatever).

But Cleveland State was known for one thing, and that's pressuring the hell out of you. After Jeremy Montgomery finished off a three-point play, the Vikes set up their trap off the ensuing inbounds…which never found its way in bounds. Was it the first sign of a long night against an aggressive-ass Horizon bunch?

Somewhere in the 216, a certain Cavalier owner was hoping so. If all played out to his liking, Cleveland State could wind up in the finals opposite either Akron or Miami (FL). Oh, how Dan Gilbert would love to have the chance to say "not in our garage!" one more time.

But on this night, it was in the best interest of the Farm Boys to keep The King away from another confrontation with his irrational ex-boss, and Josh Owens was all about defending LeBron's honor with one of his patented steals at the top of the key. With no one in front of him, you know what happened next.

Owens was showing all 1,339 who attended what he was working with, demanding the ball on the low block and finishing. Jarrett Mann was aggressive too, taking it to the rack hard, drawing contact, getting to the line.

The fast break was working. After Aaron Bright found Dwight Powell, who while in transition collected himself to get the defense out of his way and laid it in, Stanford was up ten and looking like they were going to run the Vikings out of Maples.

"Nah, it ain't like that, cuz," replied a senior-laden Cleveland State squad once they fell behind 17-7. Midwest toughness, or the façade of it, can do a team a lot of good. That toughness translated itself into a ton of offensive rebounds in the first half. You can thank 6'9'', 270-pound senior Aaron Pogue for that. While he only had two offensive rebounds himself, he constantly threw lightweights-by-comparison John Gage and others aside with every Viking miscue from the field, allowing another big like All-Frosh Anton Grady to come in and clean up the mess. Then Tim Kamczyc converted layups on back-to-back possessions, and just like that, it was a tie ballgame.

We had a game on our hands. Stanford needed someone to give them a boost on the defensive end, or at least keep the Vikes off the glass. Wasn't it the Card who were supposed to be getting 12 offensive rebounds in a game and not giving up 12 offensive rebounds in a half (if you subscribed to Kevo logic, which was getting blown completely out of the water)?

Against an aggressive team that is going to the hoop on offense whenever they aren't attempting threes, charges will be had. And that's where Marques Johnson's Grizzly Zimm always helps out, drawing a couple of ‘em on CSU's Marlin Mason. Just like that, the Viking frosh who had come in and given his side five points off the bench was now sent back to it for his two personals.

Offensively, things were starting to pick back up again for Stanford, and it came in the form of one of two of Stanford's Mr. Potentials - Anthony Brown, who hit two League-esque jumpers over Midwest Monty. The first one being a step back over Montgomery just beyond the left elbow, another being a contested right baseline jumper to give Stanford the lead back.

With Mason's scoring punch removed from the lineup, another Viking reserve had to step in - Ike Nwamu, and his three gave the Vikings their first lead of the game at 25-24. But Pogue was out of the game for Cleveland State and Josh Owens was in. That had to mean one thing for Stanford, pound that sumbitch inside to the Kennesaw Kid. As effective as Anton Grady is for Cleveland State, he is just a freshman who can't handle Owens' man strength.  I got my wish, as Owens could be found on twitter @leftshoulder13.

These Vikes weren't going anywhere this first half though, as they held a 30-28 lead over Stanford going into the final possession of the first half. We hadn't heard too much from the Rock Island Rookie on the night as compared to the Pac-12 Tournament, but it was 5-SURE time again, and Chasson delivered a rim-rattling three to put the Cardinal back on top going into the halftime locker room.

A mixed bag of a first half. Stanford could have been up a lot more than one had it just held the Vikings to fewer than 12 offensive rebounds; that was a little crazy. It also would have been nice to see Stanford do a little bit of work on the offensive glass as well, but only two o-rebbies for the home team proved otherwise. On the other hand, the Card were shooting 46 percent from the floor and had committed just five turnovers against a pressure-happy Cleveland State team.

The Farm Boys came out of the locker room with a renewed dedication to aggressive play, starting the second half trapping on the first possession once the ball handler moved past the timeline!

"Man, we practice against this ish e'ry day. Ain't no thang."

Sho wasn't. A couple of quick passes found Cleveland State's 46 percent three-bee Tim Kamczyc wide open in the right corner and the Vikings were back on top just like that to start the final regulation period.

Stanford needed to pound it down low; they did. JO got fouled by Aaron Pogue (though from where I was sitting, that foul could have easily gone on D'Aundray Brown). Hit the first. Missed the second - Ant Brown to the rescue! Ain't nothin' like a good ole' offensive rebound off a missed free throw, especially when it leads to Pogue's second personal foul in three seconds, and especially when it was his third foul of the game. The man who had made the game so tough on Stanford inside in the first half was going to be sitting next to Gary Waters.

The impact of Pogue being in foul trouble would show in Cleveland State's inability to crash the glass as well as they did in the first half. But there was more Brown to be had for the Vikings first, hitting a three over Cleveland State's Brown (an all-league defender in his own right). Next time down, Anthony worked over to the right wing - defender slips!- and drilled the long range two.

Anthony Brown was in the building and feeling himself. By game's end, the SoCal sophomore thizzle danced his way to a double-double of 15 points and 12 boards, the second of his career.

In the meantime, Cleveland State was trying to stay in the business of keeping this at two possessions, which they were able to do by stopping a 9-0 run with the help of a layup by Marlin Mason.

"Nah, that's Luda!" Coach Waters said as he took a break from coaching to correct the scorer's table. My bad, Coach Dub, I meant Luda Ndaye. Chris Bridges' stage name would do even more work, scoring off an offensive rebound, and the lead was down to just three thanks to a mini 6-2 burst of the Vikings' own.

But Cleveland State would start to lose contact. With Pogue still out of the lineup, the paint was unclogged, and nine straight Stanford points were a direct result of being able to get in the key, whether it was Josh Owens posting up, or Aaron Bright in transition, or Chasson Randle getting fed the alley-oop off the end-line out-of-bounds play (turned out to be free throws on a foul call) that the Card love to run at every opportunity.

Speaking of that penultimate man, Bright really started to get his game going in this here second half. After that one layup, he demanded the ball on the right wing - give that defender a little shot fake, kid! - one dribble pull-up near the right baseline. Next time down, he penetrated and drew two defenders, one of whom left Jack Trotter wide open on the left baseline, and Bright found Mr. President for the easy dunk. 

"Their half-court D is falling apart like a pair of cheap shoes!" David Lombardi remarked after the Trotter dunk. Good one, Lombo, lemme jot that down in my notes. Their half-court D…

The lead was now at 12 by the time of the under-12, and Cleveland State was clearly losing its form. Pogue got back in there after the timeout, but went Hack City to prevent the Joshes from going Rack City quickly twice (the first time, he had Huestis stuffed in the lane. Had he just not brought his arms down, he would have avoided his fourth). After Pogue fouled Owens with Hawai'i's area code glaring from the scoreboard in time remaining, he was getting the hell out of Dodge. He didn't want to hear the "left, right…sit down!" chant that I'm sure is not novel to Maples. Rough way to end your collegiate career.

From there, that was about it. Owens made the freebies and Stanford was up 17. The Vikings pressed after each made basket of their own, but the Card were handling it with much more ease - Bright was getting into a flow, dribbling past the pressure and getting the Card into their offense. Not only that, but his offense was really starting to click - first a three popped in after bouncing high off the front rim. Then he took it right down Broadway (no Pogue, remember) and finished with a nifty lefty.

Bright told me after the game he was not too happy with the way he played in the first half (I'm paraphrasing) and decided to grab life by the horns like a Dodge Ram commercial in the second (again, I'm paraphrasing). Now Stanford was up 19 with just the final four-minute stanza to play, and the Vikings were worn out. The score looked more respectable than it really was by the time 40 minutes were up - Stanford 76, Cleveland State 65.

Sorry, Mr. Gilbert. Not only will the Heat win an NBA championship before your Cavaliers, but the Hurricanes and Zips are in a better position to win an NIT title before your hometown Vikings. Such is life.

Now the path to New York goes through Maples as both #1 Arizona and #2 Ole Miss fell at home on Wednesday night.  The Illinois State Redbirds, along with their en fuego shooting from deep, took down the Rebels in overtime in Oxford.  Stanford will face the Missouri Valley representative on Monday night at 8:30pm PDT.  Be there!
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