With two hours of dominant basketball and a 89-77 win over the Montana Grizzlies the Vikings sent notice to the Big Sky that they are still the team to beat and gave the standing room only crowd at the Stott Center a little taste of showtime Viking-style.
Acrobatic lay-ups, rim-shaking dunks and a whole lot of chest pounding were but a few signs that the Vikings who ran off eight straight victories had vanquished the imposter squad who lost back-to back road games last weekend.
In last Saturday’s loss to Idaho State the Vikings seemed unable to find the key to their fast-paced, up-and-down offense but came out in gear tonight.
"We’ve had the key all along," said senior guard Blake Walker, "we just had to use it."
After a fast-paced 10 minutes of back and forth basketball, the Vikings took a 19-17 lead with 11:04 left in the first half and would never trail again. PSU relied on another half of stellar shooting (56.3 percent) and an aggressive defense that forced 11 steals to overcome a rebounding deficit (-6) and Kamarr Davis 13 bruising first half points and head into halftime with a 46-37 lead. Davis finished with 25 points and seven rebounds.
The Vikings continued their aggressive attack of Montana’s trapping defense in the second half and ran their lead to as many as 19.
While Seamus Boxley, Will Funn and Blake Walker had their usual strong nights, the rest of the team picked up the slack created by Jake Schroeder’s absence (stress fracture) with one of the team’s most balanced efforts. Junior guard Josh Neeley set new career highs with 11 points and 3 steals and Antone Jarrell turned in a great all-around performance with seven assists, six points and five rebounds and newly appointed 3-point dead-eye Tyler Hollist filled Schroeder’s shoes beautifully with three 3-pointers for nine points.
Seamus Boxley had a near triple-double with 19 points, 8 rebounds and a season high eight assists. But the night belonged to Walker. After taking a hard foul on an early dunk attempt, he repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet with reverse layups, hanging jump-shots, dunks and most memorably a Sportscenter-worthy one handed baseline slam over the outstretched arm of Grizz forward Matt Dlouhy.
Thanks to Walker and crew the Viks outscored the Grizz in the paint 46-32 and dominated the fast break 18-7. The final score was 89-77 but the game wasn’t that close.
It appears that the two losses last week have energized and rededicated a Vikings team that may have become overconfident after four quick conference wins. All year long coach Schroyer has been saying all the Vikings need to do is focus on what they do and they’ll be okay, and the Vikings appear to have realized that with their talent their toughest opponent may truly be themselves and finding the focus sand intensity needed to play at their top level.
Thursday night they found it and the Grizz had no answers.
"Everything feels like a river," Walker said, "and right now it’s flowing pretty well."
The Vikings play Montana State with first place on the line Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the Stott Center. See preview below.