CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - When did Dennis Gates know his Vikings had what it took? Early December, following their second game of the season, when they lost to the Ohio Bobcats by 55 points.
A week later, they took on the Buckeyes, one of the top teams in the nation, and lost by only 6.
“Ohio State allowed us to really measure who we are, but also how can we respond when we’re thrown a difficult curveball to hit,” Gate told me during a zoom interview. “And, at that point in the game against Ohio, it led us into where we needed to grow.”
And that was to grow into a team that would then win its’ first nine Horizon League games, and go on to claim a share of the regular season title.
Now here they are, the top seed in the Horizon League tournament, and just three wins away from the Big Dance.
But Gates won’t go there ... yet.
“We’ve played 810 Horizon League regular season minutes,” Gates said. “Our postseason, we’re only guaranteed 40 minutes at a time, so therefore the most important thing we can focus on is our next minute. Not even our next game, but our next minute.”
That’ll come Tuesday night against Fort Wayne, a team they’ve already beaten three times in four tries this season, including in December, when D’Moi Hodge threw down 46!
Gates laughed when I asked him if he can just tell D’Moi to drop another 46 on Fort Wayne. But then again, Gates has had a lot to smile about this season. He’s the reigning two-time conference coach of the year. He has brought new life to this program. But, he says, the Vikings are far from finished.
“I’m definitely happy but I’m not complacent, because our goals stretch far beyond conference,” Gates said. “Our goals stretch to be able to be a team that’s on “One Shining Moment” (the annual NCAA Tournament montage video), and a team that plays on April 5th (the NCAA Championship Game).”