The Big Sky’s Finest

Following a weekend sweep of Montana and Montana State, the Vikings have earned the right to declare they are number one, as Portland State stands alone atop the Big Sky in first place.

Following a weekend sweep of Montana and Montana State, the Vikings have earned the right to declare they are number one, as Portland State stands alone atop the Big Sky in first place.

Halfway through the Big Sky schedule, Portland State (13-8 overall) is 6-2 versus conference foes, giving it a half-game lead in the Big Sky standings over a cluster of second place teams that sit at only 6-3 in conference play.

Looking down the road, the Vikings have the fortune of facing Weber State (11-10, 6-3 BSC) and Idaho State (9-13, 6-3 BSC) at the friendly confines of the Stott Center in two weeks. But the Vikings will first have to travel to Northern Arizona (14-8, 6-3 BSC) Thursday and Sacramento State (4-16, 2-7 BSC) Saturday in an attempt to hold on to the Big Sky’s top spot and move a step closer to earning the right to host the Big Sky Tournament with the conference’s best record.

The tight race at the top of the conference is not a surprise to Portland State head coach Ken Bone.

“We’re at 6-2, that’s good, that’s fine, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Bone said. “There’s a lot of parity in this conference. I’m glad with every win we can pull out.”

Pulling out wins in the waning moments of regulation or overtime is becoming a signature of this Vikings squad.

In the recent three-game home stand–dating back to Jan. 19–Portland State defeated Northern Colorado (9-13, 3-7 BSC) 85-83 in a thrilling overtime contest, knocked off Montana (10-12, 4-5 BSC) 70-68 with a pair of Jeremiah Dominguez free throws in the final seconds, and overcame a halftime deficit to torch Montana State (13-9, 5-4 BSC) 96-85 this past Saturday.

This weekend’s victories over the Grizzlies and Bobcats gave the Vikings better than a passing grade on their biggest test of the season so far. Following an unusually long 11-day layoff between games, Portland State came out and picked up two huge wins to catapult them to the top of the standings.

While the Vikings are receiving praise for compiling the best record in the conference at the midway point, the team would be in a world of hurt if it were not for the second-half heroics of Dominguez. Dominguez, a junior guard in his first season in the South Park Blocks, has produced second-half scoring outputs of 17, 19 and 26, respectively, in Portland State’s last three games.

After a two-point first half and a halftime chiding from Bone against the Bobcats Saturday, Dominguez scored the Vikings first eight points of the second half on his way to finishing with a career-high 28 points for the game.

“We needed some scoring,” Dominguez said. “We were down and needed someone to be aggressive. I led by example and the team caught on.”

With Dominguez leading the way, the Vikings put on an offensive display, scoring a season-high 96 points. Senior guard Deonte Huff, finishing with a career-high 26 points, set a new school and Big Sky record from the charity stripe, hitting a perfect 17 of 17 free throws. And scoring 17 points, senior center Scott Morrison reached double figures for his fourth consecutive game.

Dominguez is not unfamiliar to last-second heroics, as he sank two clutch free throws with only 5.7 second remaining on the clock to propel the Vikings past Big Sky rival Montana last Thursday. And that still is not the extent of the speedy floor general’s impact in crucial moments of games. Before the Vikings’ 11-day break, Dominguez rallied to score 11 points in the extra period of Portland State’s overtime victory over Northern Colorado.

With Dominguez’s help the Vikings have racked up four straight victories, and are now 10-1 in games in which they score 70 points or more and lead the Big Sky in scoring at 76.2 per game.

“We’ve got a scoring team,” Dominguez said. “We know we can score, our biggest thing is our defense. If we can keep scoring and get some stops, we’ll keep winning.”

Portland State is 8-1 at home this season and 5-0 at home in Big Sky Conference games. The biggest home crowd of the season, at 1,272 fans, turned out to see the Vikings defeat Montana in a game that was televised on Comcast SportsNet Thursday. Another 1,157 were in attendance against the Bobcats Saturday.

“It’s lovely. When this gym gets packed you can hear everybody. It’s great,” Dominguez said.