DAVIDSON, N.C. - Despite outshooting Davidson from the field and from three-point range, the Cleveland State University men's basketball team fell to the defending Atlantic 10 champions in each team's season opener, 83-63, Tuesday evening inside John M. Belk Arena.
CSU shot 46.7% from the field while holding the Wildcats to a 41.7% mark. The Vikings also hit 50% of their attempts from distance while Davidson sat at 36.1%.
"Our first-shot defense was plenty good enough to win," said head coach Dennis Felton. "Our offense—we turned it over more than we want to—but we shot it plenty good enough. You can sum up the difference in the game in one word: rebounds. The fact that the game was competitive for most of the night was a little bit astounding. It wasn't all about physical strength. It was more an attitude of playing with more physicality."
Cleveland State was led by freshman Rashad Williams, who scored 15 points in just 19 minutes thanks to a 5-for-7 mark from distance. Classmate Seth Millner, also reached double figures in his collegiate debut, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field.
The teams remained close in the early going, with CSU erasing an early deficit off back-to-back three-pointers by Williams. After an Algevon Eichelberger basket, the Vikings led, 19-16, nearly halfway through the opening half.
The Wildcats then edged ahead, 23-22, with eight minutes left in the half and soon widened their lead. The Vikings went without a point for over three minutes while Davidson scored 10 straight points to open up a double-digit lead. The Wildcats led by 11 at the intermission.
CSU scored the first four points out of halftime, with buckets from senior Dontel Highsmith and Millner, to cut its deficit to seven, but that was as close as it could get.
A Williams steal and quick pass in transition led to a thunderous dunk by junior Jaalam Hill with about 12 minutes left. Hill then found Millner for a three on CSU's next possession to cut Davidson's lead back to single digits. However, the Vikings were unable to pull closer as the hosts were able to see out the win.
Hill finished with six points and five rebounds. Sophomore Stefan Kenic tied for game-high honors in rebounds (7) and led the Vikings with four assists.
CSU had a 31-14 advantage in bench scoring. Six student-athletes played their first game as a Viking Tuesday, including four true freshman.
"We learned where we're at and what we've got to do from this game," Felton said. "I think that's an advantage to opening with a high-caliber opponent. The future is bright. To come into this hostile environment against a very accomplished team and see the confidence some of the freshman played with was encouraging."
Cleveland State will open at home this Saturday, Nov. 10, as it hosts the fourth annual Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer doubleheader for the first time. The Vikings will host Kent State (7:00 p.m.) after Akron plays Youngstown State (4:30 p.m.).