Cleveland State never intended to have to rely on a freshman playing in only his ninth game to help them defeat Loyola. And if you told Gary Waters that it would take a freshman to win against the Ramblers, he might have asked if half of Loyola's team was injured.
And while there was some partial truth to the injury scenario, this was a Loyola team that comes back into 2015-16 off a CBI Tournament championship, and should have had no issues downing the Vikings, one of the youngest teams in Division 1, at home.
Cleveland State shot 41.2 percent from behind the arc, and despite a dreadful night shooting overall, used the deep threat to power past the Ramblers, 60-54. Leading the way was that freshman, one who had played just limited minutes for the Vikings, Daniel Levitt.
Levitt went 4-for-6 from the floor Wednesday night, all from 3-point range, and all coming when it looked like Loyola had what it took to stop Cleveland State and pull back in front.
The freshman also had a key assist to Tim Hasbargen who nailed his only three of the night when Loyola had taken a brief one-point, second-half lead. Of course, Levitt followed that quickly with one of his four threes and Loyola never was able to come back.
The two players you could consider the usual suspects for this Cleveland State team, Andre Yates and Demonte Flannigan, each did their parts. Yates led the team with 14 points, and Flannigan added 10 points and three blocks. That they got the contributions off the bench from these newcomers is a big boost.
Keep in mind that this team could have had Bryn Forbes leading at the point. Instead he is in East Lansing. Or they could have had Trey Lewis as a sharpshooter. Instead he is at Louisville. And most importantly, this team could have exerted its size advantage inside with Anton Grady. Instead, he bolted to Wichita State.
This team should have been extremely dangerous, but instead are piecing things together, which makes their triumph over the Ramblers even more impressive.
While neither team is made up of Giants, you would think that Cleveland State had a decisive advantage on the inside with the way they crashed the boards. The Vikings pulled down 17 offensive rebounds, earning multiple second and even third chances on the offensive end, wearing down a hobbled Loyola team even more.
They held the normally strong shooting guards of the Ramblers to just 3-for-13 from 3-point range, and forced them to penetrate into the lane in order to score, something that they did a good job of stopping with six blocks and nine steals.
Loyola has some work to do, despite a strong effort on defense in the first half, and overall except except from beyond the 3-point line. The Ramblers still have the makings of a spoiler in the Missouri Valley, but it won't happen when Milton Doyle is nursing an ankle injury. And it won't happen when Devon Turk takes just five shots, and misses both his 3-point attempts.
Eventually Montel James will return and give this team its size back. And if Earl Peterson can play like he did tonight (16 points, two steals) alongside James and a healthy Doyle, this team is back to form.
It is just going to happen too late to get this one back from Cleveland State, a team that Loyola should have beaten even when it wasn't at its best.