The Vikings did all they could to extend their season Saturday night against Eastern Washington, but everything they had wasn’t enough to overcome freshman Rodney Stuckey’s 38 points as the Eagles won 81-75. Stuckey led an EWU offense that shot 63 percent on the night in a game they led wire to wire.
The Eagles came out shooting and built an 11-point lead with just less than eight minutes left. With the score 32-21, the Vikings cut the lead to six after Jake Schroeder hit a three, but the Vikings would fail to score over the next four minutes and trailed 46-32 going into the break.
Stuckey finished the half with 21 points, three more than Vikings center Anthony Washington would have at game’s end. At that point, Stuckey had torched the Vikings on 8-12 shooting. He would finish shooting 13-20, including 4-7 from three.
The Vikings used a 16-6 run to open the second half and trailed 52-48. They would keep the game close the rest of the way, getting to within three at 73-70 on Ryan Sommer’s jumper but the Eagles made their free throws down the stretch and time simply ran out on the Vikings’ season.
Washington’s 18 points on 7-7 shooting led the team. Junior forward Juma Kamara added 16 points, including 4-8 shooting from three. Sommer had nine points and eight assists with just one turnover and Schroeder added 12 points and five assists with no turns.
The loss ends an up-and-down season for the Vikings in their first year under head coach Ken Bone. Last season’s regular season Big Sky championship set the bar high for this team, which featured almost an entirely new cast.
Standout Seamus Boxley and the nation’s assist leader Will Funn graduated. Also lost to graduation were high-flier Blake Walker and local product Antone Jarrell. Former head coach Heath Schroyer defected to Fresno State, taking an assistant position.
This new team is hard to define. Anthony Washington came on as an offensive force late in the year. Senior guard Jake Schroeder provided leadership and had some great games but he also struggled with his touch for stretches. JC transfer Juma Kamara is the most versatile of the current group. The Vikings sorely missed Ryan Sommer whenever he wasn’t manning the point.
Perhaps this year’s group can best be described as a true team, a sum of their parts. By the end of the season four Vikings were averaging double figures in scoring, yet Jake Schroeder led the team with a paltry 12.5 points a game.
The Vikings played some close games this year. How close? The team averaged 72 points per contest and gave up 71.9 points through 28 games. Portland State edged itself into the tournament with a 93-92 OT win over Montana and needed Idaho State to lose its final game.
With the year over it is time to reflect on what should be considered a successful season, despite a six-game losing streak during the middle of conference play. Yes, the Viks lost a bad stretch of games that started with a loss to Idaho State at home and saw losses to both Montana schools and a blowout at league leader Northern Arizona.
But the Vikings also garnered some impressive wins. First there was an 81-53 rout of Howard in the final day of the Cyclone Challenge hosted at Iowa State. Then came the gutty 54-52 win at Oregon, where the Viks fended off the pit crew and won a physical contest. Oregon shot 36.4 percent on their own Macarthur Court and could not recover from Scott Morrison’s 15 points, which he earned in only 23 minutes. The win was Portland State’s fourth in a row.
At the end of the season the Vikings took care of business at home. First they disposed of Montana State, 82-59. Anthony Washington led the way with 16 points, as he was a force in the paint.
Washington set the tone early the following Saturday against Montana. He exploded for a monster alley-oop from Juma Kamara five minutes in and took care of business the rest of the way, grabbing nine boards and blocking three shots, one of which directly led to a fast-break basket. A huge put-back dunk in the second half brought the crowd to its feet once again and capped Washington’s breakout night.
Really the game was a group effort. Juma Kamara also had 18. Ryan Sommer had 15 points, seven assists and five steals and played with poise beyond his sophomore status.
Senior captain Jake Schroeder avoided playing the goat for missing two free throws in regulation by hitting a long, arcing three five seconds into overtime.
Once fellow senior Josh Neeley added his own three the Viks were rolling to their fourth win in a row. Only a post-game brawl marred the victory, one the Vikings needed badly on “senior night.”
In all, the Vikings will look back on their 12-16 year and probably regret a couple of those close games that populated their six-game slide. Yet this was a team with a new head coach and a whole new cast of players and they were able to put it together in the end. They made the Big Sky tournament. Mission accomplished.
They gave themselves a chance to win this year. Kudos to Ken Bone for coming into a murky situation and righting the ship quickly. With new blood coming in next year and most significant pieces staying put, look for this team to win 18 games next year and give every team in the Big Sky a headache.