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Tonight, tonight – Game 29 vs. Cleveland State

“Tonight’s your big night.  Are you ready for it?…are we ready for it?”

– Stephen Rea as Inspector Finch, V for Vendetta


vs.

Milwaukee (16-12, 11-5) vs. Cleveland State (23-6, 12-4)

Wolstein Center

TV: Time Warner Sports 32, 6 p.m.

Tonight’s the night.  After all the blowouts, after all the overtime games, all the injuries and exams and miles traveled by bus and plane, it all comes down to tonight.  One top-tier dragon left to slay.

Anthony Hill, take over the game.

The Milwaukee Panthers avenged a blowout loss at Valpo with a victory that needed all 40 minutes to be secure.  Pesky defeats at the hands of Loyola and Green Bay? They got their comeuppance.  Not able to beat Butler at Hinkle? Check.

All that remains in the “Revenge” section of the playbook is one team.  Of all the blowouts, the one that stings the most came at the hands of Gary Waters and the Cleveland State Vikings.  Losing like that, by 23 in front of the home crowd in a conference game, is the most humbling feeling a home fan can have.  It didn’t matter that CSU was undefeated at the time, or that they featured some of the best sharpshooters in the Horizon League.  They had the League’s best player at that point, Norris Cole.

Cleveland State has gotten better.  They may have been 12-0 at that point in early December, but the Vikings had played mostly scrubs to that point,with a couple real tests sprinkled in.  Norris Cole, who was already the best player in the Horizon at that point, has changed from a guy who can drop 30 on you to a guy that absolutely will drop 40 on you if you give him the chance.

Cole can jump on you early and make you pay.  In their last game, a loss at Old Dominion, Cole had 18 points by the 10-minute mark of the first half and 24 by halftime.  He’s frighteningly quick, has extremely fast hands, and he uses them to his advantage on both ends of the court.  Cole averages 2.2 steals on the defensive end.

He turns the ball over with some regularity, but is such a benefit in the game that the coaching staff doesn’t even flinch about leaving him in for any extended period of time.

It’s a testament to the Vikings’ success that he is not the only weapon they trot out there; far from it.

Norris Cole has been here before. He knows what's at stake.

Trevon Harmon is as deft a shooter as any you’ll find in the Horizon League, as are Tim Kamczyc, Jeremy Montgomery and sophomore back-up Josh McCoy.

But it all comes down to Norris Cole.  He is the key to everything they do.  His ability to score from anywhere on the floor, control the tempo, and get himself open makes his teammates better.  But it’s ability to drive the lane, kick out and find the open man, that makes him so dangerous.

Teams have often found this season that doubling up on Cole does not stop him.  He’s going to get his 20 points (I say this realizing he has scored under 20 in half of the last 10 games) whether you double him or not.

Cleveland State needs to be matched up man on man.  Aaron Pogue is a big body, leaner then when he started college but still a big boy.  Anthony Hill, for as bad as he played in the first meeting, is still the better player.  He’s an inch shorter and gives up a few dozen pounds, but Ant is more skilled and has a wide array of post moves.

The Vikings and Panthers both know what’s at stake tonight.  The winner goes on to play a bottom four opponent for the conference championship.  Neither of those games are gimmies; Green Bay won at Valpo this year and Youngstown State beat Butler at home.

But the focus is on tonight.  I’ll leave you with this.

WAR MILWAUKEE!!!!

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