Vikings leave Saints praying for answers

St. Martin of Tours is said to have brought the dead back to life. But Friday night even he couldn’t have resuscitated the St. Martin’s Saints as they were smothered 91-62 by a determined PSU team in the Vikings lone exhibition.

St. Martin’s, a small Division II school from Washington, served as little more than fresh meat for a hungry PSU team anticipating this Friday’s season opener against Gonzaga.

"We’ve been practicing pretty hard for three weeks now, so it’s nice to be beating up on somebody else instead of each other," senior forward Seamus Boxley said.

After jumping to a quick nine-point lead, the Vikings committed six turnovers in two minutes and found themselves down by three with nine minutes remaining in the first half.

Staving off memories of last year’s embarrassing exhibition loss to tiny Northwest Nazarene, the Vikings regained their composure. Displaying the newfound intensity and dedication coaches had praised, senior point guard Will Funn led the Vikings on a 29-10 run to finish the half and seal away the game. Funn’s relentless pressure and knifing drives to the basket proved too much for the Saints to handle. He ended the night with 8 points, 7 assists, 7 steals, 3 rebounds and a block. More importantly, he only turned the ball over twice and ran the offense efficiently.

With a lead that would never shrink below 18, the second half served as a chance for the Vikings to show off their new depth. Thanks to a strong recruiting class and the return of two players who redshirted last year head coach Heath Schroyer has a pocket full of new weapons to attack opponents with. Unlike last year, where he was forced to rely on the starters due to a thin bench, this year Schroyer should be able to rotate fresh players in to keep up the defensive intensity he preaches.

Boxley, who figures to be one of the main beneficiaries of the deeper bench, is excited. "If something is to happen or there’s a situation that takes me off the court I know that these guys can go in and get the win," he said.

Friday night Boxley had the luxury of sitting out 14 minutes of the second half and watching his new and old teammates rack up 43 second-half points. New guards Jake Schroeder and Josh Neeley showed off the outside shooting touch they’d been recruited to provide (4/9 3 pt.) and new forward Tyler Hollist pulled down eight rebounds to go with his 10 points. Thanks to a combination of their sharpshooting and the Saints lack of an interior defense, the Vikings made a whopping 58.7 percent of their shots.

Also impressive in extended auditions were returning redshirt junior Keith Sconiers and true freshman center Scott Morrison. Sconiers, who sat out last year due to a knee injury, played much bigger than the 6-7 230 pounds he is listed at. His 10 points and seven rebounds were secondary to the way he physically dominated the low post. Whether he will be able to do the same against better Big Sky competitors remains to be seen, but his return to the court looks promising.

Morrison’s rapid development will be the story to watch as the season develops. Over three weeks of practice and intersquad scrimmages Morrison showed an unusual amount of poise and skills for a 6-11 18-year-old. During the game Morrison made his share of freshman mistakes, but he refused to back down in the blocks and showed slick passing skills unheard of for young centers. If his poise is any indicator, the big man could be a star down the road.

The Vikings get their first real test of the season this Friday night in Spokane against the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Bulldogs were one of the top ranked teams in the country for all of last year before losing to Nevada in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Despite losing two of their stars, the Bulldogs return one of the top big men in the country in 6-10 senior Ronny Turiaf and have the most imposing frontline the Vikings will face all year. To make matters even more difficult, Friday is the team’s first game in the new McCarthey Athletic Center. The 6,000+ crowd figures to be unlike any to ever fill the Stott Center and will test the Vikings’ ability to remain focused.