Cleveland State races to early lead to knock out Wake Forest

MIAMI -- The Cleveland State Vikings remain unbeaten in first-round NCAA tournament games.

They've played two of them, 23 years apart, and notched two upsets. The latest victim: one-time top-ranked Wake Forest.

Cleveland State raced to an early 17-point lead and withstood a second-half rally by the Demon Deacons to win 84-69. It was reminiscent of the Vikings' only other tournament appearance in 1986, when they upset Indiana and Bob Knight in the opening round.

The Vikings (26-10) were seeded 14th then; they're 13th in the Midwest Regional this year.

"We understand what the '86 team did was important for our school," said Norris Cole, who led Cleveland State with 22 points. "But now it's time for a new chapter."

On Sunday, the Vikings will play No. 12 Arizona (20-13), which beat Utah 84-71.

Fourth-seeded Wake Forest (24-7) lost playing in its first tournament game since 2005.

"It's very disappointing," Demon Deacons scoring-leader Jeff Teague said. "We expected to do damage in this tournament. To lose in the first round is hard to take."

Wake Forest won its first 16 games and was No. 1 for a week in January, but lost its final two games of the season.

Sputtering offense again plagued the Demon Deacons, as it did when they were beaten by Maryland last week in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. They committed 18 turnovers to six by Cleveland State, which held Wake Forest well below its scoring average of 81 points per game.

"We're not the best shooting team," Vikings center Chris Moore said. "But we're up there with any team in the country on defense. Because of that, we're in position to win any game."

Teague was shut out for the first 13 minutes, totaled two points in the first half and finished with 10, half of his average. James Johnson's trio of 3-pointers kept Wake Forest in the game in the first half, and he finished with 22 points. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 17.

"We have an incredibly disappointed locker room right now," coach Dino Gaudio said. "Hopefully we learned from this experience."

J'Nathan Bullock scored 21 points for Cleveland State, and Cedric Jackson had 19 points and eight assists. Jackson hobbled off the court in the final minute with cramps, but coach Gary Waters said he would be fine.

The upset was the latest sign of revival in the Vikings' program. They went 4-25 in 2003-04 and 10-21 only two years ago, when Waters was in his first season as coach.

"I'm sorry to a lot of people that we broke their brackets," forward George Tandy said. "But we had a lot of confidence. We were prepared."

Cleveland State had a size disadvantage but found ways to compensate. The section with fans from Ohio erupted in the second half when the 6-foot-3 Jackson dunked after catching an alley-oop inbounds pass from Cole.

By then, much of the arena was rooting on the underdogs.

"We believed from the start of the game that we could play with this team," Cole said.

A three-point play by the Demon Deacons' David Weaver made it 55-49 with 11 minutes left, but the they could get no closer. Cole sank a basket, then hit a breakaway layup following a turnover to put the Vikings up 66-51, and the margin climbed to 73-54 with 3 1/2 minutes left.

"We almost let them back in," Waters said. "I would have been pretty upset about that."

The Vikings closed out the win by going 12-for-15 from the free-throw line in the final five minutes.

Cleveland State started three seniors and Wake Forest none, and the Vikings looked like the more poised team early. They sank their first three shots -- two 3-pointers by Jackson and one by Cole -- for a 9-0 lead. Meanwhile, the Demon Deacons committed eight turnovers in the first 11 1/2 minutes.

"We had to hit them early in order to be in that game," Waters said. "We surprised them. It took them a while to realize what was occurring out there, and then it became a ballgame."

When the Vikings made five consecutive shots during an 11-2 run, they led 29-12. But they missed their final six shots of the first half, and a pair of 3-pointers by Johnson helped cut the margin to 39-30 at halftime.

Wake Forest freshman center Tony Woods made his first career start in place of Chas McFarland, who had started all but four games in the past two seasons. McFarland entered the game after less than five minutes, but by then the Demon Deacons trailed by 10.

The miracle Vikings of 1986 went on to the regional final before losing in the final seconds to Navy and David Robinson.

"A lot of people still remember that issue back then," Waters said, "but many people don't because it's so long ago."

His team now faces a rare second-round matchup of low seeds.

Since the NCAA tournament field was expanded to 16 seeds per region in 1985, there have been only seven matchups between teams seeded No. 12 and No. 13. It happened twice last year: Western Kentucky played San Diego and Villanova played Siena, both games taking place in Tampa.

This year's Vikings made the NCAA field only because they won the Horizon League tournament for the first time. It's their first postseason berth of any kind since playing in the NIT in 1988.