Despite having to brave a grueling travel schedule and a discombobulating time-zone shift, the Vikings managed to split a pair of games in their first road trip to New York since the 1997-98 season. After rolling to a 62-52 victory against the Binghamton Bearcats on Friday night, the Vikings were stopped in their tracks by the Syracuse Orange, 82-77, in a hotly contested overtime battle at the Carrier Dome.
Despite having to brave a grueling travel schedule and a discombobulating time-zone shift, the Vikings managed to split a pair of games in their first road trip to New York since the 1997-98 season.
After rolling to a 62-52 victory against the Binghamton Bearcats on Friday night, the Vikings were stopped in their tracks by the Syracuse Orange, 82-77, in a hotly contested overtime battle at the Carrier Dome.
Though a two-win weekend would have been the most desirable outcome, head coach Sherri Murrell was happy with the results.
“It was a very tough road trip,” Murrell said. “Playing on the East Coast, everything is different-the refs, the arenas. But I really wanted the team to be challenged in a different way, and they definitely were.”
Portland State has battled against an inability to perform well on the road under Murrell, going just 7-8 away from the Stott Center during last season, Murrell’s first and only.
In their farthest-reaching road trip of the season, the team was tested, as both games were the home openers for their opponents.
In the first half of Friday’s matchup against Binghamton, it looked as if road weariness was taking its toll on the Vikings offense. Luckily, the Bearcats were caught in the same malaise, and Portland State held a 20-18 advantage heading into halftime.
“We missed 11 of our first 12 shots, I think,” Murrell said. “But we were making stops defensively. I just told the girls at halftime to keep shooting.”
Their coach’s sage advice proved valuable, as the Vikings snapped out of their shooting slump and exploded for a 42-point second half.
Senior forward Kelsey Kahle led the charge, racking up a game-high 17 points and pulling down nine rebounds to sway the game in Portland State’s favor.
“It’s what we’re going to expect of her all year long,” said Murrell. “She’s a warrior, and she’s going to try to win for us every game.”
Though they were able to overcome their fatigue in the opening game of the weekend, the Vikings were met on Saturday by an athletic, aggressive Syracuse team eager to protect their home court. Unlike the game the night before, both teams found their offensive groove from the opening tipoff, taking turns at making uncontested scoring runs in the first half. The Vikings defense eventually tightened up, allowing them to push ahead to a 10-point lead going into the intermission.
“In the first half, Syracuse played a zone against us,” Murrell said. “We came out confident, moved the ball and shot well.”
In the second half though, the Orange got wise to the Vikings’ zone-busting and transitioned to a man-to-man defense, a change from which the Vikings would never fully recover.
“They moved to man-to-man and the adjustment threw us off,” Murrell said. “Fatigue was definitely a factor.”
The talented Syracuse team, which made it to the NCAA Tournament one year ago, surged behind the support of their home crowd but the Vikings hung with the Orange, thanks in large part to the deadly outside shooting of senior forward Katia Hadj-Hamou.
Connecting on five shots from beyond the three-point arc and scoring a team-high 20 points, Hadj-Hamou gave Portland State a much-needed spark in the second half.
“She was frustrated from the night before (when the team went 0-12 from behind the arc), and I told her to focus on defense and rebounding, not to think about shooting,” Murrell said. “Obviously it worked, because she was just lighting it up for us.”
But the three-point barrage would prove insufficient for the Vikings to steal the victory from the fired-up home team.
The Orange rallied from behind to even the score in the final minute of regulation, sending the game to overtime where the exhausted Vikings were simply outrun.
The Vikings will get a couple of days of much-needed rest before hosting rival Portland at the Stott Center on Wednesday night.