A season of ups and downs

Looking back on the 2009–10 men’s basketball season, it would be easy to compare this team’s performance with that of the past two years. Sometimes, however, the easiest thing to do isn’t the right one.

Looking back on the 2009–10 men’s basketball season, it would be easy to compare this team’s performance with that of the past two years. Sometimes, however, the easiest thing to do isn’t the right one.

“We were 13–19 and maybe two or three plays away from being 19–13,” said head coach Tyler Geving. “I felt like we were just always right there from turning the corner and getting over the hump.”

 Despite a major coaching change and turnover on the roster that included losing Big Sky Player of the Year Jeremiah Dominguez, the Portland State men’s basketball team played every night like it was their last.

Losing the player that practically led them to the NCAA Tournament for two straight years would be hard for any team to handle. Adding in the loss of coach Ken Bone, who left the program for a job at Washington State, it’s easy to see exactly how stacked the cards were against the Vikings.

Never ones to give in to anything, Portland State proved to be a tough out on any given night and, on more than a few occasions, were too much for more than a couple teams that dared play them in the Stott Center—or in Portland for that matter.

“[The] guy’s competed all year long, nobody quit,” Geving said. “Everybody [played hard], all the way down to the end.”

That became apparent after the Vikings traveled to Seattle to play in the Athletes In Action Classic, the season-opening tournament hosted by University of Washington.

After close losses in their first two games against Belmont and Wright State, two teams that had also played in the NCAA Tournament the previous years, they faced a ranked Washington team that had recently proven just how good they really are. What made this surprising was Portland State’s ability to stay close early on before falling to the Huskies.

After prodding through a rough early season, Portland State hit their stride against Northern Colorado with a 85–69 win over a team then thought to be one of the top mid-major teams in the NCAA. The Vikings overcame a poor night of shooting by relying on players like All-Big Sky selection senior forward Jamie Jones, who chalked his fourth of what would be a league-leading eight double-doubles of the season, to prove they still had the talent to play against top teams.

A win over the University of Portland Pilots in December, then ranked No. 25 in the nation, and later over regular season champion Weber State in the final conference game of the regular season proved the Vikings always possessed the talent to beat any team on any given night.

Despite their successes at home, Portland State seemingly fell apart when they hit the road, which was evident from their losses to Idaho State, Montana State and Seattle University.

Always led by the outstanding play of senior guard and All Big Sky selection for two straight years, Dominic Waters, the reliable play of Jones alongside senior forward and All Big Sky Tournament selection Julius Thomas, Portland State possessed three players that would account for 55 percent of the team’s scoring and 77 percent of its blocked shots.

“Dom was good for us all year,” Geving said. “Really, at the end of the season I felt like he played his best basketball.”

“Jamie was really good from start to finish,” Geving said.

The Vikings also received outstanding play all season long from junior guard Melvin Jones, junior forward Phillip “Tree” Thomas and junior guard Paul Guede.

The low of the season came when senior guard/forward Phil Nelson, the team’s best all-around player, went out with a broken foot in practice midway through the season. Adding insult to injury, it was Nelson’s final year of eligibility as well.

“Phil broke his foot and that hurt us,” said Geving. “Phil is obviously a talent.”

Peaking at just the right time, the Vikings closed out the season by clinching the final spot in the Big Sky Tournament. Again proving their worth, Portland State went into the tournament and won their first game against a Montana State team that they failed to beat twice during the regular season.

Just when it looked like they were going to end up with a fairy-tale ending, the Vikings fell to Weber State in the tournament semifinal, unable to recreate the late-season heroics that led to the earlier defeat over the Wildcats.

Although the 2009–10 season ended a two-year streak of conference titles and subsequent NCAA Tournament appearances, it still highlighted the fact that Portland State is a formidable opponent in the Big Sky Conference, able to overcome staffing changes, injuries and roster turnover.