It was the weekend the Vikings had been waiting for since Big Sky Conference play began almost two months ago. Portland State notched two crucial road wins last week to keep their tournament hopes alive, beating fellow bottom dwellers Weber State and Idaho State to set up a final week that will determine the Vikings’ fate.
The Vikings started their week off with an 80-73 win at Idaho State that featured dominating performances by the Portland State big men. Anthony Washington scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds while frontcourt mate Scott Morrison had 13 points to go along with a game-high 11 boards. Senior guard Jake Schroeder added 18 points on 7-12 shooting.
With plenty still left to play, the Vikings traveled to Ogden, Utah, to face Weber State. Going into the match the Vikings were 0-11 all-time at the Dee Events Center, including nine Big Sky games. A strong showing by Schroeder and Washington secured another Portland State win, just the second time the Viks have strung together multiple wins this season.
Schroeder led the Vikings with 20 points. Sophomore point guard Ryan Sommer added 18 points and three assists and Washington added 14 points. Only Schroeder and Sommer saw more than 30 minutes of playing time. After averaging 19 points over the two Viking wins, Schroeder was named Big Sky Player of the Week, for the first time this season.
Now the Vikings must look toward a huge week where they must face both Montana schools at the Stott Center for a chance to make the Big Sky tournament. The Vikings are in if they win out and Idaho State loses. Both ISU and Portland State are tied for last in the Big Sky at 3-9 and trail Weber State by one game.
If Portland State and Weber State are tied to end the season, PSU would get in via their two wins over Weber State in conference play. If PSU, ISU and Weber State are tied to end the season (at 4-10), the Vikings would get in with their three wins over those two schools.
Of course, all these scenarios can be avoided by holding serve at home with two big wins over Montana and Montana State and an Idaho State loss. Idaho State will most likely do their part by losing a game, but the Vikings must find a way to beat the second best team in the Big Sky, not to mention the 14-12 Montana State Bobcats.
The Vikings were blown out at Montana 98-77 on Jan. 26 and lost by a point in a heartbreaking 69-68 loss to MSU two days later. The losses were part of a six-game Vikings losing streak that spanned nearly a month. The Vikings lost four of those games by a combined 8 points.
It will be tough for the Vikings to win two more games this season. No one is questioning that. But for a young team like Portland State there is no better position to be in this late in the season, still hanging on with a chance to win two games at home for a ticket to the conference tourney.
Will those 8 points and four losses come back to haunt the Vikings? Probably. Close losses are indicative of a larger issue: when it’s time to step up, something is going wrong. Something is preventing big plays from being made and crucial stops from happening.
That something could simply be a young and unathletic team going through its growing pains. Bad luck. Whatever. It doesn’t matter now. The Vikings have picked themselves up after an ugly, disheartening stretch and they won two end-all, be-all games on the road. That should count for something, even if it means having just a modicum of confidence going into the final week of the regular season.
So what can you do to help this team? Pack the Stott Center Thursday night. Be noisy. Obnoxious. Scream. Send the Bobcats home to lick their wounds. Then come on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. to see what might be the most important game played at the Stott Center in a long, long while.
This team has a chance. It’s not a big one, but it’s there. So come out, wear the colors and be loud. Because this team needs two wins and they probably won’t get them without you, the fans.