Archie’s Wry Hook: ESPN’s effect felt on the court and in the stands

For long-time Vikings fans, the evidence that something was different about Saturday’s matchup between Portland State and Boise State was everywhere.

For long-time Vikings fans, the evidence that something was different about Saturday’s matchup between Portland State and Boise State was everywhere.

On the patio outside and in the lobby of the Stott Center, a space where the chill of concrete and brick is usually so overwhelming that lingering any longer than necessary would be a social blunder, waited hundreds of basketball fans.

The air possessed a tangible ambience of energy and buzz.

Inside the gym, the bleachers were filled to capacity as high-rolling donors, football coaches, PSU President Wim Wiewel and Portland celebrity Greg Oden sat near courtside, while “Stott Center Security” struggled to contain a student section that, for the first time this season, was boisterous and even, gasp, intimidating.

Oh, yes, and the play on the court wasn’t bad either.

Ken Bone’s squad certainly performed brilliantly and for the first time since Dec. 23, when the Vikings played out of their minds and defeated then No. 7 Gonzaga. Portland State played a full 40-minute game with passion, energy and concentration.

Whether it was senior point guard Jeremiah Dominguez dead-eying another three-pointer or sophomore forward Phil Nelson running the court for an alley-oop dunk, Portland State looked like a team that was intent on showing the 1,500 in attendance and those watching across the country on ESPNU that they belonged on the national billing.

When the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” announced earlier this year that for the first time in the four years that Portland State has taken part in the BracketBuster series the Vikings would actually be hosting a game, nobody seemed to take notice.

But when the network released their television schedule for their BracketBuster series a week or two ago, and it included a 4:30 game on ESPNU (a cable subsidiary of the sports information giant that reaches 20 million households) at the Stott Center, you can bet that athletic director Torre Chisholm and his staff had woken up with some nightmares about how Saturday’s game would shake down.

Chisholm, in a moment of candor in a recent interview, said that in recent years the game environment at the Stott Center “sucked.” Even this year, the Vikings have failed to sell out games in the tiny Stott and the gym looks even smaller when the teams playing have to create their own energy.

But on Saturday, the game environment—outside of what the ESPNU broadcasters referred to as this “high-school gym”—was nothing short of stellar.

Apparently, the four-letter acronym that the sports leader bears at every opportunity not only motivated the Vikings to play their most complete game in 60 days and the best half of basketball that many fans had ever seen in person, but also drove hundreds of students, alumni and fans to the Stott Center to root their team on.

While the cheers were sometimes awkward and juvenile, and the north and south sides of the Stott Center never seemed to get on the same page in their chanting, the Stott Center, for one of the few times in even the longest-tenured student’s memory, was actually a basketball arena.

For now, the Vikings can rest assured that if they play with the same intensity that they displayed on Saturday, they should have little difficulty with their two remaining conference games and could even run through the Big Sky Tournament for the second year in a row.

Chisholm may want to do his part and see if he can convince the network to leave their court decal, wall posters and cameras at the Stott Center, and see if Bone’s squad and The Horde that came across as the most loyal fans in the Big Sky Conference can bring that same intensity again tomorrow night and in a couple of weeks when the Vikings will likely host a Big Sky Tournament quarterfinal game.

Because when the lights were on and the cameras were rolling, the Portland State package—players and fans alike—performed brilliantly.