KENT, Ohio - As Cleveland State endures life on the road and on the fringe of the Top 25, it's going to have win its share of ugly ones.
With D'Aundray Brown on its side, it could be a ride to remember.
A veteran team with high expectations opened a seven-game road-trip Tuesday night. Cleveland State stayed unbeaten because it never let Kent State really get in sync and because Brown bailed the Vikings out every time the home team made a run.
Nothing came easy for either team in a 57-53 game that was as big for homefront bragging rights -- the sellout crowd of 6,327 was the largest for a Kent State non-conference game since 1971 -- and could be big come March as both teams try to build their postseason resumes. For now, 4-0 Cleveland State's resume that includes wins at Vanderbilt and Kent and home vs. St. Bonaventure looks pretty darn good.
The defenses dominated Tuesday as both teams shot 35 percent and combined for 42 turnovers. The Vikings never trailed, though, as Brown hit two jumpers as part of a 14-2 start, showed off his outstanding athleticism with a late first-half block to keep it a 30-21 game and hit a 3-pointer with just under four minutes left when Kent had cut the lead to 44-40.
He was everywhere the Flashes wished he wasn't.
"D'Aundray is the best defender, in my estimation, in the country," Cleveland state coach Gary Waters said.
Brown's main assignment was Kent senior guard Carlton Guyton, and Brown held Guyton to 8 points on 3-of-9 shooting. Brown scored 11 of his own, also contributing 3 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 assists in addition to his highlight-reel block on regining Mid-American Conference Player of the Year Justin Greene late in the first half.
The 6'4 Brown saw the 6'8 Greene catch the ball on the right block, came flying in from the opposite wing and met the ball well above the rim.
"I knew he likes to go over his left shoulder," Brown said. "I saw he was about to make the move. I timed it up and I got up there high enough."
Now, the question is can Brown, his classmates and some talented freshmen -- Cleveland State wouldn't have won without the contributions it got from Anton Grady and Charles Lee Tuesday night -- keep it going? The Vikings have received votes in both the AP and Coaches Polls the last two weeks since winning at Vanderbilt when Vanderbilt was ranked No. 7, and a win at Kent is another quality one.
"I feel like our program is at a certain level now," Waters said. "I think (in 2009) when we went to the NCAA Tournament and beat (Wake Forest), I think that was a great team. Now I think the program is consistent. We're getting quality recruits and it's time for us to move forward. Our goal this year was to be a top-25 team."
Cleveland State moves on and still has little margin for error. The Vikings play three games in three days in Kingston, Rhode Island this weekend. Three more road games follow, including two early Horizon League games. Their next home game isn't until Dec. 10 vs. Akron, another local MAC team and another quality program.
If Brown, Jeremy Montgomery and Company can push Cleveland State into the rankings, they're going to have earned it.
"This was a paramount game for us," Waters said. "Kent is a good team. I expect them to win the MAC. You have to see what happens, but this was important for us."