The Vikings move one step closer to their dreams of playing in the NCAA tournament after putting together an impressive second half at the Stott Center on Saturday. The men crushed Montana State 96-71 in the quarterfinal round of the Big Sky tournament. That’s one down, two to go.
The Vikings move one step closer to their dreams of playing in the NCAA tournament after putting together an impressive second half at the Stott Center on Saturday. The men crushed Montana State 96-71 in the quarterfinal round of the Big Sky tournament.
That’s one down, two to go.
Tuesday the Vikings take on Big Sky regular season champs Weber State in Ogden, Utah. A victory there would send them to the conference championship game against the winner of Northern Arizona and Montana. The last team standing will receive the coveted automatic invitation to the NCAA tourney.
The Vikings players have said, time and time again, anything less would be a disappointment. Even head coach Ken Bone has agreed that the team is peaking at just the right time. The way they’re playing right now, they might all be right.
In front of a frenzied crowd of 1,140, the Vikings began strong, building a 20-7 lead with 12:22 remaining in the first half. But the Bobcats, refusing to go quietly into the cold, dark, season-ending night, cruised back to take a 37-36 lead into the break.
Once inside the locker room, the Viking players were able to quickly identify and remedy all that ailed them.
“We pretty much discussed things as a team before the coaches even stepped in,” said junior center Scott Morrison. “We new where we were, and we knew where we wanted to be.”
“We had a little chip on our shoulder,” senior forward Juma Kamara added. “We let them back in and it kind of pissed us off a little.”
The team re-emerged determined, electric and efficient, scoring a whopping 60 points on 71.9 percent shooting in the second half.
Senior guard Paul Hafford’s hot hand lit the fire with back-to-back threes. In his last game at the Stott Center, he finished with 18 points and six rebounds.
“I didn’t want to leave on a poor performance,” said Hafford, who after missing his only three-point attempt in the first half hit all four in the second. “I made a concerted effort to get myself open.”
After getting the lead back, the Vikings took total control. It was a barrage of dunks, three-pointers and blocks that helped the offense run seamlessly. Three Vikings players, junior guard Dupree Lucas, junior forward Deonte Huff and Hafford, finished with 18 points.
Of Portland State’s 23 field goals in the second half, 20 of those came from assists, a statistic coach Bone said was “unheard of.”
“We we’re hitting shots,” Morrison said. “Our whole team was being unselfish and really moving the ball.”
With the offense carrying the team, the Vikings tightened their defense as well.
Junior center Scott Morrison shut down Montana State’s interior game with big blocks and a bigger presence. Morrison’s performance was all the more valuable as foul trouble limited senior center Anthony Washington to just six minutes of play. Morrison filled up the stat sheets with 9 points, five assists, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
“He looks like he’s nonchalant out there,” Hafford said of Morrison. “I think that’s how people get tricked into trying to shoot near him.”
Kamara also lent a hand in Washington’s absence with a career- and game-high 11 rebounds to go along with his 17 points.
“It’s an exciting time of year,” said coach Bone. “You’re playing for something and I think the guys realize that, so they’re leaving it out on the floor.”