Vikings deflate Eagles’ playoff hopes

This past weekend, the Vikings took care of their own business and caught a break from a conference foe.

This past weekend, the Vikings took care of their own business and caught a break from a conference foe.

On Saturday, the Vikings defeated Eastern Washington, 66-62, in a gritty road overtime performance for the squad’s fourth consecutive victory and 11th of the Big Sky regular season.

And with thanks to Northern Colorado, who defeated Montana and Montana State last week, the Vikings earned the Big Sky Tournament’s No. 2 seed and a first-round bye at next week’s tournament in Ogden, Utah.

“I’m excited to know we are two games away from being in the [NCAA] tournament,” said head coach Ken Bone. “But there’s still work to be done.”

In the first half of Saturday’s game against Eastern Washington, the Vikings jumped out to a nine-point advantage and seemed to carry all the momentum after a three-pointer by senior point guard Jeremiah Dominguez that put Portland State up seven points.

Bone’s squad featured a dynamic inside-outside duo during the game with junior post Jamie Jones playing his strongest game since returning from hand and ankle injuries several weeks ago and finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Jones’ presence on the inside opened up lanes and good looks on the outside for Dominguez and juniors Phil Nelson and Dominic Waters. The three perimeter players combined for 34 points.

But their fine performances were nearly all for naught as Eastern Washington, who needed a victory in order to stay in contention for the final tournament spot, nearly made a ferocious comeback in the waning moments and had a shot to win the game at the end of regulation and in overtime.

The Eagles would score 12 unanswered points in the final minutes and even take a 43-42 lead after a three-pointer from junior guard Milan Stanojevic.

“Coach told us that they [Eastern Washington] were going to give us everything they had,” Jones said. “We had to be ready for it.”

After the Vikings retook the lead in regulation, a jumper by Brandon Moore tied the game at 56 with less than a minute to play. Physical play and turnovers prevented either team from getting a bucket in the final moments.

The overtime period seemed likely to go the way of the home squad, but after the Eagles took a 60-57 lead halfway through the five-minute extra time Waters found his groove scoring four points and dishing out an assist to Jones in the paint.

A pair of free throws by junior Julius Thomas iced the game for the Vikings, who avenged a loss in Cheney last season.

“Eastern Washington gave us their best shot,” Bone said. “I am glad we won the game and were able to persevere.”

Portland State now find itself in a interesting position with having more than a week off before trying to win its way into a second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.

“It’s a catch-22. We definitely can use the rest, but at the same time benefit from playing another game,” Jones said. “But right now we feel good about the way we are playing.”

Even though the Vikings have earned a week off, the road back to March Madness will not be easy.

“Now it’s a situation where we have to play with energy and concentration,” Bone said. “If we are able to do that, I like our chances next week.”