Unfortunately for the Cinderella Vikings of Cleveland State, midnight came to the Motor City. The Wright State Raiders defeated Dennis Felton's Vikings by the final of 74-57 to advance to their third NCAA Tournament in school history.
In his final game as a Cleveland State Viking, Kenny Carpenter led his team with 18 points. Freshman Tyree Appleby added 15. Wright State was led by Grant Benzinger's 19 points and 9 rebounds. Those three along with Wright State's Loudon Love were part of the Horizon League's All-Tournament Team. Benzinger finished as the tournament MVP.
Here was our live recap throughout the night:
9:45 p.m.--Takeaways after hearing from Coach Dennis Felton
I talked with Cleveland State Head Coach Dennis Felton, along with Kenny Carpenter and Tyree Appleby after the game. Felton was proud of how his Vikings played over the last month or so, not just in these five games at the Horizon League Tournament:
Carpenter was asked if the team ran out of gas having to play a fourth game in five nights here in Detroit:
I asked Carpenter about how he feels going out as a senior with an impressive run in the conference's tournament. He smiled and told me that he was glad he got to play a season for Felton and happy that he and his fellow seniors have left this team in such a positive place. Appleby told me that it's going to be up to him and his fellow underclassmen to carry the torch and and this momentum moving forward.
Felton then had a great quote: "I feel like we lit the city of Cleveland on fire these past days in terms of interest and getting people to pay attention to us." We got the whole quote below:
My colleague Pat Chiesa got a little more from the coach in the player above.
If the Vikings become a Horizon League power in the next few years and go where Wright State is headed, we can point to this week as when the surge in momentum truly began.
8:36 p.m.--Final media timeout: Wright St. 63, Cleveland State 49
Unless a miracle happens with 3:54 to play here at Little Caesars Arena, it appears that the Wright State Raiders are headed to the NCAA Tournament for the third time as a Division I school . They hold a commanding 63-49 lead and there just doesn't appear to be enough time for the Vikings to make a charge.
Wright State last won the Horizon League crown in 2007. They also advanced to the 'Dance in 1993.
8:27 p.m.--Photo gallery!
Thanks to our friends at the Horizon League for providing many of these shots for us as we keep our gallery updated tonight.
8:16 p.m.--Wright State seizes command
With 11:05 to go in the game, Wright State has taken a 51-39 lead over Cleveland State. It's the largest lead of the game for the Raiders. Somehow, the Vikings have to find a way to go on some kind of a run here in the next 4-5 minutes. Like a 6-0 or an 8-0 run just to get back to within striking distance. Wright State's suffocating defense is not allowing quick baskets.
8:06 p.m.--2nd half is underway: WSU leads CSU, 40-33.
One of the points that Al Pawlowski made to me in our pregame Facebook Live conversation was that someone not named Kenny Carpenter or Tyree Appleby was going to have to help with the scoring load. Carpenter and Appleby have scored 20 of the Vikings 33 points with just under 16 minutes to play. No one else has more than five.
The other thing I've noticed is that every Cleveland State possession is taking the shot clock down to virtual zeroes every time. That's not necessarily a bad thing, if you get off a high-percentage shot at the buzzer. That has seldom been the case.
7:52 p.m.--Halftime thoughts
The Raiders lead the Vikings, 34-26 at halftime. It could be worse. But Cleveland State is going to have to figure out how to find some offense that doesn't involve driving to the basket around Wright State's big men. 6-9 Loudon Love and 6-11 Grant Benzinger are awfully tough to shoot over. CSU's Anthony Wright tried several times and was just 1-5 from the field. The Vikings as a team were just 2-12 from beyond the 3 point line.
One thing to watch in the 2nd half: Fouls.
There were just seven combined fouls called in the first half. That's extraordinary in a college basketball tournament game. Will the officials start blowing the whistle more? That could help the Vikings claw their way back into this. It's only an eight point deficit. Can they rekindle the magic?
7:33 p.m.--Vikings in a drought, trailing 27-21 with 3:23 to play in first half.
We asked for it, it's here. How will Cleveland State respond to adversity? Wright State is on an 8-0 and 13-2 run to open up a 27-21 lead with 3:23 to go in the first half. I'm fascinated to see how Vikings respond.
7:25 p.m.--Wright State 22, Cleveland State 21 with 6:44 to play in first half.
So far, the stars are doing exactly what they are supposed to do in championship games. Kenny Carpenter, the Vikings' leading scorer this season, has 8 points. Grant Benzinger, who is Wright State's top scorer, has 9.
One guy I'm keeping a close eye on is Raiders freshman big man Loudon Love. The 6-9, 275 pounder from Cincinnati is a definite matchup problem for Cleveland State. So far, no points and three boards.
7:09 p.m.--1st media timeout
It's all knotted up at 5 with 14:39 to play in the first half. Not surprisingly, both teams came out a little tight with so much at stake. Neither team in shooting well thus far, Cleveland State is 2-7, Wright St. is 2-8. One of the things I've been so impressed with when it comes to the Vikings run here in Detroit is that they've won in different ways: Scorefest with Northern Kentucky, followed by a slogfest against Oakland. Tonight may be more of the latter, rather than the former.
6:55 p.m.--Final thoughts before tip-off
When anyone brings up attendance in a game like tonight, think in terms of quality, not quantity. I'll say this: The busloads of Viking fans have brought the energy. I think it probably helps to have them sit next door to the pep band, which I caught getting set up as I was walking around the arena.
The energy from the Vikings faithful will be important, but what's more important to me is the maintenance of the belief of these players that they can pull off another unexpected victory. Can they overcome adversity if they fall behind? Can key role players make important contributions? If so, I sense the dancing will continue.
6:40 p.m.--Preview of the game with 'The Voice of the Vikings,' Al Pawlowski
I caught up with my WKYC colleague and Cleveland State radio play-by-play announcer Al Pawlowski courtside for a preview of tonight's game between the Vikings and the Raiders. Watch below:
6:00 p.m.--Welcome to Detroit
To say it's a surprise that the Vikings are here is an understatement. Cleveland State came into the tournament as the No. 8 seed after finishing the regular season at 9-22. Since Friday, the Vikings have won three games in four nights, including a knockout of the top-seeded Northern Kentucky Norse.
They're here. No one expected them to get this far, so in many ways, the Vikings are playing with house money here tonight. The Raiders from Wright State are the No. 2 seed in the field and come into tonight with a 24-9 record. However, the two teams split during the regular season. Anything is possible.
Can the Vikings keep dancing? Follow us all night long for updates. You can interact with me on Twitter using the hashtag #3Vikings.