Long scoring droughts are becoming Cleveland State's Achilles heel.
CSU squandered a 13-point second-half lead and might have blown its chances of hosting a first round game in next month's Horizon League tournament with a 66-59 setback to Green Bay on Friday night at the Wolstein Center.
With the loss, CSU drops to 12-15 and 4-9 in the Horizon League. They are two-and-a-half games back of Illinois-Chicago (6-6 HL) and three games back of Youngstown State (7-6 HL), who defeated Milwaukee 94-80 on Friday. UIC travels to Loyola of Chicago on Saturday.
"We let another one get away," Vikings head coach Gary Waters said. "We went through a stretch again where we couldn't score. And we didn't defend as well as we did in the first half."
The Vikings held a 40-27 lead just 49 seconds into the second half.
Then, it all fell apart for CSU.
It all started after Green Bay called a timeout and switched to a zone defense. The zone stymied CSU. The Vikings would go the next 8:59 without a basket.
"I really don't know why we struggle against the zone," said CSU's Charlie Lee, who scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half. "The zone kind of slowed me down because they had two people on me all the time."
The Phoenix scored 15 straight points to take a 42-40 lead on a pair of free throws from freshman forward Jordan Fouse.
"We turned the ball over about three times in that period of time," Waters said. "What it does is it unnerves everyone. Who we got out there is all we got. We got to deal with that until its changed."
Junior forward Luda Ndaye's mid-range jumper ended CSU's scoring drought and tied the game at 42-42. Then Bryn Forbes's three-pointer gave CSU its last lead of the game, 45-42.
Green Bay (14-12, 8-5 HL) would score six straight points to take the lead for good. The Phoenix got a jumper from Keifer Sykes, then a three-pointer and a dunk from Alec Brown to give Green Bay a 49-45 lead with 6:16 left.
Forbes' second three-pointer of the night cut it to 49-48, but Green Bay answered with a three-point play by Sykes.
Then, Forbes' third three-pointer of the night cut it to 52-51, but Green Bay answered again with back-to-back three-pointers from Brown and Sykes to extend it to 58-51 with 3:09 left.
The Vikings would make one last run.
CSU scored six straight points to cut it to 58-57. The Vikings got a lay-up from Tim Kamczyc, a three-pointer from Lee and a free throw from Ndaye.
But Fouse's put back proved to be the dagger for the Vikings and extended it to 60-57 with 1:04 left.
"That was the game," Waters said.
Then, on CSU's next possession, Lee missed a lay-up.
Sykes would go 6-of-6 from the line in the final 32 seconds to preserve the win.
"Sykes took over the game and that's why they won today," Waters said.
Sykes finished with a game-high 23 points, with 19 of them coming in the second half. Brown scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half. The Phoenix also had a strong performance from sophomore forward Greg Mays, who finished with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds).
The Phoenix shot 52 percent from the field in the second half and went 9-of-9 from the line. Green Bay went 19-of-21 from the line overall.
Forbes was the only other Viking in double-figures with 11, all of them came in the second half.
CSU shot 50 percent in the opening half and took a 36-27 lead at the intermission.
The Vikings' defense held Green Bay to eight field goals and 34.8 percent shooting in the first half.
CSU hosts Milwaukee on Sunday.
Tom Mieskoski is a contributor to Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.