CLEVELAND -- All throughout the last week, Cleveland State University men's basketball coach Gary Waters stressed the need to play a full, 40-minute game on the defensive end of the floor after the Vikings suffered a 68-54 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay last Saturday.
And that is exactly what the Vikings were able to do as they forced 19 turnovers and turned them into 20 points in their 74-50 victory over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Horizon League action at The Wolstein Center Saturday.
"We've been making games be offense to offense, and anyone can come out of that game successful, but when we play our defense, it's hard for a team to stay with us, and I thought they did a good job today," said Cleveland State coach Gary Waters.
With their leading scorer, Jordan Aaron, out of the lineup because of a suspension for a violation of team rules, the Panthers were out of sync on the offensive end as the Vikings earned their eighth win in the last nine outings and third in the last four home games.
"I thought our guys focused in," Waters said. "They had to make this a primary focus. I don't think it's been their primary focus. What we have done with three or four players is make offensive guys become defensive guys and that's a hard thing to do because their first inkling is to concentrate on that offensive end and rest on the defensive end.
"And when you rest on the defensive end, it hurts you. The players made a commitment over the last three days that we're going to be better defensively, and at each practice, they practiced pretty hard. We had about two or three guys hurt and when we're getting guys hurt, we know we're doing a good job because we're going after it."
The Vikings had not played in a week after last Saturday's 14-point loss to Green Bay, and it showed early on, as they scored just 13 points in the first 12 minutes of play, but the defense buoyed the team, as it limited the Panthers to 5-of-26 shooting (19.2 percent) and 1-of-13 from three-point range (7.7 percent) in the first half.
The Panthers made just 31.9 percent of their shots from the field and 28 percent of their three-point attempts in the loss.
"You can win without offense if you're playing great defense, but you can't win if you're not playing great defense," Waters said. "I thought they made a commitment to that. Each player made a commitment to it. Even during the timeouts, (sophomore forward) Anton (Grady) was like, 'Hey, we need more stops, guys. We've only got two stops.' When they start thinking that way, they're putting emphasis on defense."
With the win, the Vikings remained in second place in the Horizon League standings, trailing only Green Bay, who, earlier this week, clinched its first regular-season league championship in 18 years.
After Tuesday's regular-season home finale against Youngstown State, the Vikings will travel to Indiana to play Valparaiso before opening Horizon League Tournament action on Tuesday, March 4.
"We have a three-game stretch here, and our goal is to come out of these three games successful," Waters said. "We had to take one at a time, but we had to come to a focal point. The focal point was defensively."
In addition to the defense, the Vikings received an emotional lift with the return of sophomore guard Bryn Forbes. Forbes missed last week's game against Green Bay with a stomach virus that required a brief stay in the hospital, but came back with a 12-piont, three-assist performance in 35 minutes on the floor.
"It was fun to be back out there. I really missed it," Forbes said. "I had lost six pounds, so I felt really weak. It was kind of hard, but I've adjusted now."