Survive and advance. That is the name of the game in college basketball come March - be it the NCAA Tournament or the 2011 NIT Basketball Tournament. The Cleveland St. Vikings did just that, overcoming a two-point halftime deficit to defeat the Vermont Catamounts 63-60 in the first round of the NIT down at the Wolstein Center.
Guard Norris Cole had 27 points,including two clutch free throws with 4.4 seconds remaining to lead the Vikings into the second round. Aaron Pogue added 11 points and 8 rebounds for the VIkings, who moved to 27-8 on the season.
After Cleveland State got off to a hot start, grabbing an early 19-12 lead, Vermont stormed back on the strength of a 13-2 run to take a 25-21 lead. Vermont led 27-25 at halftime.
The second half was back and forth, with both teams trading the lead. A pair of Luke Apfeld free throws gave the Catamounts a 44-41 lead with 11:21 to go, a lead the was quickly erased by a Josh McCoy three. The game continued to go back and forth with Vermont leading 57-55 with 2:53 remaining. That's when the Vikings defense took over - and Norris Cole got going.
Vermont went over two minutes without scoring a point, while a pair of Trevon Harmon free throws tied the game, and Cole scored on a layup, then two free throws of his own to give the Vikings a 61-57 lead with just 27 seconds to go.
Brendan Bald made things interesting with an acrobatic three with 11 seconds left, but Cole sealed the deal with two free throws. Matt Glass missed a desperation three at the buzzer, sending the Vikings to the second round.
Cleveland State will face the College of Charleston in the 2nd Round this weekend.