The Vikings men’s basketball team traveled to Los Angeles to open their season against the heavily favored University of Southern California Trojans. As the Vikings entered the locker room after they’d annihilated the Linfield Wildcats in the last warm-up game, head coach Tyler Geving and his staff immediately addressed the looming game against the Pac-12 powerhouse. “They [USC] are very beatable,” Geving repeated over and over.
The Portland State Vikings took these words to heart as they entered the Galen Center and took the court against the Trojans. They had five players score in double figures as they upset USC 76–68 to kick off the 2014–15 season.
Despite a cold shooting night, the Vikings kept themselves in the game with their defense, as they forced the Trojans into 23 turnovers in the game while only committing four themselves. The Vikings turned the Trojans’ turnovers into 31 points on the other end, helping to overcome a .532 to .391 shooting disadvantage.
Geving inserted three new starters into his lineup for the opener at USC, and the results couldn’t have been much better. Senior forward Tiegbe Bamba, sophomore guard Bryce White and sophomore forward Braxton Tucker were playing their first game as Vikings, and they combined for 49 points (16–32 field goals, 4–7 3-pointers, 13–17 free throws), 14 rebounds, four assists and six steals with only two turnovers as they each played 34 minutes. Bamba had 19 points, six rebounds and four steals and was named Big Sky Player of the Week. Tucker scored 16 points with five rebounds, while White added 14 points and three boards.
The win over the Trojans marks the Vikings’ first win over a Pac-12 school since the 2006–07 season. Before the victory over USC, the Vikings had posted a record of 4–48 against Pac-12 schools. PSU led most of the game, but took full control with a 10–0 run that gave them a 70–58 lead with 2:09 to go.
Coach Geving was pleased with the way his team performed, saying afterwards, “Obviously, guys played extremely well. I think the big difference in the game was the fact that we took care of the ball and only had four turnovers. Our defense did a good job of pressuring them and forcing them into 23 turnovers, which we converted 31 points on. I think, even though we got beat on the boards pretty good and they shot a high percentage, our defense did create a lot of points for our offense.”
With the victory over USC, the talk of the Vikings heading to Eugene to face University of Oregon is buzzing. The Ducks are 3–0 to start the season, and present an even stiffer challenge than the Vikings saw in Southern California.
Coach Geving isn’t shying away from the challenge, “I like this team; I told our guys we could win every game or we could lose every game. I think we have enough talent to go in and compete with people, Pac-12 schools, etc. It’s a good feeling going into a game knowing you’re a competitive team, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win. But going into it I felt that we had a chance.
“Oregon is obviously a good challenge for us. A team that has gone to the NCAA tournament the last few years, it will be a good test for us to see how we stack up against Pac-12 schools, and I think we will find out a lot about ourselves in that game and what our strengths and weaknesses are. I’m looking forward to the challenge and to see what we can do,” Geving said.
Taking down two Pac-12 schools in two weeks might be a lot to ask, but it’s certainly not out of reach. The Vikings head south again to play Cal State Northridge on Wednesday before their trip to Eugene. The game against the Ducks will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network, Nov. 30 at 5 p.m.