Call him Skywalker. Call him B-dub. Call him Superman.
But after Blake Walker brought the Vikings (3-2) back from the dead Wednesday night, a better nickname might be The Resurrector. Walker scored 17 of his game high 26 points in the second half to infuse a dead Vikings team with just enough life to sneak by the feisty Jackson St. Tigers (0-6) 63-62 at the Williams Center in Jackson, Miss.
With their second consecutive road win, the Vikings notched their first three-game winning streak in two years and moved above .500 for the first time since January 2002.
The winless Tigers dominated the Vikings with a relentless pressure defense in the first half, converting 15 Vikings turnovers into 17 easy points. After a three-point play by Walker tied the game at 14-14, the Tigers went on a 21-7 run and ended the half up 35-21.
A seasoned Vikings follower wouldn’t have been out of line had to jump ship given the team’s history. Last year the Vikings were a lowly 4-12 on the road, 3-13 when they scored under 70 points, 0-3 when out rebounded and 0-10 when the other team took more shots than they did. At halftime the Vikings were well on their way to achieving all four dubious distinctions, but for the second time in three nights the Vikings made a definitive statement that they are not the same team that ended last season 11-16.
Head coach Heath Schroyer proudly recalled afterwards that the team never lost faith even when down 17 with 10 minutes to go.
"I told them, ‘Gentlemen if we can put together a few stops in a row we can win this game,’" Schroyer said.
Behind a tenacious full-court press the Vikings did just that and slowly closed the 17-point gap with the help of Walker’s offensive heroics.
Wednesday night Walker did it all. He played 37 minutes and led the team in points, rebounds (7) and steals (2). His performance evoked memories of the 33-point second half show he put on against Tennessee State in last December’s 74-71 PSU win and raised the question, just what is it about playing on the road that Walker loves?
"There’re no distractions, just you your teammates and the coaches," Walker said.
Even with Walker’s heroics, the Vikings barely overcame another woeful night at the free throw line (53.3%) and their troubling tendency to collapse under defensive pressure. Tigers guard Charlie White missed a free throw with the opportunity to tie the game at 63-63, but Seamus Boxley gave the Tigers one last hope by tipping the rebound out of bounds. But Boxley and Tyler Hollist blocked the Tigers desperation shot and preserved the improbable Vikings comeback.
Whether the Vikings have the talent and mettle to win the Big Sky is far from proven, but by pulling out back-to-back last minute wins on the road the Vikings proved they have the heart and determination that often seemed missing last year.
"I’ve never been more proud of them," Schroyer said.
Saturday night the Vikings will try to extend their winning streak to four against the crosstown rival Portland Pilots at 7 p.m. in the Stott Center. The Pilots were picked to finish last in the WCC but are off to a 4-2 start and nearly pulled off a 19 point comeback against Oregon State on Wednesday. The two teams split last year’s series, with the home team winning both games. Pilot point guard Eugene "Pooh" Jeter is averaging 16.2 points per game and will test the Vikings on both sides of the ball. The Vikings haven’t put together two solid halves yet this year but will need to Saturday to get the win.