A strong second half propelled Cleveland State to a 79-59 victory against Rio Grande on Friday night at the Wolstein Center.
After leading by three at the half, the Vikings (8-5) outscored the Red Storm 44-27 in the second half.
"We needed a game like this to get back on track," said Vikings head coach Gary Waters. "What we wanted to do today is play solid defense and get better on the defensive end."
CSU turned in one of their best defensive performances of the season on Friday night.
After allowing five straight teams to shoot 50 percent from the field, CSU held the Red Storm to 35.1 percent.
"We finally held a team under 40 percent from the field, and that's what we're looking to do," said Waters. "We spent about 80 percent of practice this week working on defense."
CSU's defense created 21 turnovers, which led to 25 points. The Vikings also out-rebounded the Red Storm 22-16 in the second half.
"We were really disappointed at halftime that we didn't win the [rebounding] battle," Waters said. "We told them at halftime that we needed to win that defensive battle. And I thought we did a much better job in the second half."
The Vikings shot 51.8 percent from the field and had four players in double-figures. They assisted on 22 of CSU's 29 baskets.
Senior forward Tim Kamczyc's three-pointer just before the half gave CSU a 35-32 lead at the intermission. It also proved to be the go-ahead basket.
It was only the third time this season that CSU has led at the half. The Vikings are 3-0 when they lead at the half and 5-5 when they have trailed or been tied at the half.
CSU would make four three-pointers during a 21-7 run to start the second half and take control of the game. Sophomore forward Marlin Mason started the run with a three-pointer.
Sophomore point guard Charlie Lee's second three-pointer of the half gave CSU a comfortable 56-39 lead with 13 minutes remaining.
Rio Grande (4-10), an NAIA school located in southeastern Ohio, would close to within 56-44 on freshman guard D.D. Joiner's three-pointer, but that would be the closest they would get in the second half.
CSU responded with a three-point play from freshman guard Bryn Forbes, then a dunk by redshirt sophomore guard Sebastian Douglas. An alley-oop from Forbes to Mason made it 63-44 and put the exclamation point on an impressive victory.
Lee and Mason led the Vikings with 14 points each.
After struggling against Akron on Sunday, Lee, CSU's second leading scorer at 13.5 points per game, went 4-of-5 from three-point range. He also had nine assists, three steals and only one turnover.
"I think after that game at Akron, I think [Charlie] sat down and told himself that I'm not going to turn the ball over, and I'm going to run this team," said Waters. "And he did a good job of that [today]."
Mason, who went scoreless against Akron, went 6-of-8 from the field against Rio Grande.
Kamczyc and Forbes contributed 11 points each for the Vikings.
Senior center Dominick Haynes led Rio Grande with 17 points. The Villa Angela-St. Joseph High product was 6-of-11 from the field. Junior forward Karl Moore was the only other Red Storm in double-figures with 10.
CSU hosts Kent State on Jan. 2.
Tom Mieskoski is a contributor to Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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