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Houston cruises past Cleveland State with second-half surge

The Horizon champs hung with the Cougars for a half.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Cleveland State at Houston Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it appears they weren’t kidding about this being the best Houston team in years. The No. 2 seed Houston Cougars rolled through the Cleveland State Vikings, 87-56, behind an extremely balanced offensive attack and stifling defense on Friday in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Cleveland State actually played decently given the on-paper matchup, but things got rather out of hand as the game went on. In the first half, the Vikings shot better than Houston from the field and kept the game within single digits, but the Cougars dominated them on the boards and in the paint. The second half, which featured an extended 27-7 stretch for the first 10 minutes and ended in a 31-point blowout, isn’t really worth discussing.

Cleveland State had blasted through the Horizon League with a 16-4 record in the regular season and survived the always-difficult conference tournament. It was a classic case of a mid-major team not necessarily playing thattttt badly, but the other team playing up to its talent level. As opposed to the other 15/2 game, in which Ohio State couldn’t execute at all on offense against Oral Roberts, Houston was able to dominate all phases of the game. And, well, Cleveland State.

The Cougars built up an 18-point lead at the under-16 timeout in the second half and never looked back. Winning by 31 despite shooting under 30% from three isn’t easy, so you gotta tip your cap to Houston and move on. Quentin Grimes paced the Cougars with 18 points, leading the way for six Houston players who scored in double-digits.

The Vikings can still take a lot of positives from this year. We’re hoping Cleveland State can keep former FSU assistant Dennis Gates, who built off a Coach of the Year performance in 2019-20 and delivered just the Vikings’ third NCAA Tournament appearance since 1972 and first since 2009. Gates seems like he can make Cleveland State into a Horizon League powerhouse, so hopefully we see more of this team going forward.