CLEVELAND -- Norris Cole is accustomed to putting Cleveland State on his back.
The Horizon League player of the year did it again Tuesday night in the Vikings' 63-60 win over Vermont in the opening round of National Invitation Tournament.
Cole scored 27 points, including the go-ahead basket with 1:23 remaining and four free throws in the final 26.5 seconds, to lead second-seeded Cleveland State (27-8) into the second round where it will play College of Charleston.
As far as Cole is concerned, he wasn't feeling any pressure with the game on the line.
"I don't think," he said. "When you think about it, that's when you choke up and miss."
Vermont coach Mike Lonergan, who knows a thing or two about playing against top guards, puts Cole in some select company. The Catamounts have faced Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette, Connecticut's Kemba Walker and Charleston's Andrew Goudelock.
"We've gone against four of the greatest guards in the country," Lonergan said.
Cole gained attention last month when he scored 41 points and had 20 rebounds against Youngstown State for only the second 40-point, 20-rebound game in the nation in the last 15 years.
On Tuesday night, he took a pass from Aaron Pogue and drove the lane to score, breaking a 57-all tie. He hit two free throws with 26.5 seconds left, giving the Vikings a 61-57 lead. Brendan Bald's 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining cut the lead to one, but Coles added two more free throws with 4.4 seconds to go.
A 3-point attempt by Matt Glass at the buzzer bounced on the rim four times before falling off.
"We won a tournament game," Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said. "That's important for us."
Pat Bergmann, who came into the game averaging 1.1 points, scored 16 to lead Vermont (23-9).
The Catamounts played without leading scorer Evan Fjeld. After spraining his ankle late in the season, he returned for the America East tournament but injured his back. Fjeld, selected first-team all-conference, averages 14.5 points a game.