Indianapolis Cleveland State is heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 23 years and coach Gary Waters is finally getting a new ring.
Cedric Jackson scored 19 points and the Vikings used a flurry of three-pointers to beat No. 16 Butler, 57-54, Tuesday night, winning the Horizon League tourney championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tourney.
“Everytime I’ve been to the NCAA Tournament, I get a ring,” said Waters, who also took Kent State to the NCAAs in 2001.
“See this ring?” he said, pushing his fist in the air in celebration. “I’ve had this ring too long. This is my Kent ring. Now I’m going to get a Cleveland State ring, and I’ve been dying to do that.”
It’s the first conference tourney title in Waters’ three seasons at Cleveland State and its first berth in the NCAA since 1986. That year, as a No. 14 seed the Vikings knocked off Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers and made the regional semifinals.
“It feels so good. I’ve waited four years, five years, it’s so amazing, just to get this championship,” said Jackson, who was voted tourney most valuable player. “It means the world to me. This team has stuck together day in and day out.”
Six of Cleveland State’s first seven field goals in the second half were three-pointers, helping the Vikings (25-10) erase an eight-point lead by the Bulldogs (26-5).
“It really wasn’t the game plan. It was about being aggressive and knowing when to step up and make plays,” Jackson said. “We started out slow and Butler was sagging off me, so I had to step up and just count on that shot to go in.”
Butler’s last lead was 48-47 midway through the period, then Jackson hit a three-pointer and a floater in the lane to put the Vikings in front for good.
Butler had two chances to tie in the closing seconds, but Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward missed three-pointers.
“I was trying to get the best shot possible,” said Mack, a freshman who led Butler with 18 points and a career-high nine rebounds.