Vikings move forward into league play

It’s been an up-and-down month for the Portland State men’s basketball team.

It’s been an up-and-down month for the Portland State men’s basketball team. After an impressive 4-1 start, including wins over Pepperdine and Seattle University, the Vikings stumbled in the following weeks and won only three of their last seven non-conference games.

Starting with a 68-49-blowout loss to the University of Oregon on Dec. 5, the Vikings (8–6, 1–1 Big Sky) dropped four of their next six games, as the team struggled to keep the turnovers down and to find a consistent offense. The Vikings also lost a tough game to in-state rival University of Portland on Dec. 18, losing 78-67 despite a 25-point, nine-rebound performance by power-forward Chehales Tapscott.

“We went into a scoring drought down the stretch…and then we made some stupid turnovers,” head coach Tyler Geving said after a 92-77 loss to Cal State Bakersfield on Dec. 15. “You just can’t win when you give up 27 points off turnovers, and give up lay-ins on the other end.”

However, Portland State was able to regroup and display its resilience in the team’s final non-conference game, trouncing Utah Valley 73-53 to head into conference play on a positive note. The Vikings were led by their backcourt, as sophomore guard Chris Harriel sank three 3-pointers on his way to 14 points and junior guard Charles Odom filled up the stat sheet with 17 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and a blocked shot.

Portland State finished the non-conference schedule with a solid record of 7-5, and the Vikings have experienced a few ups and downs along the way. Geving—in his second year as the head of the program—has been forced to incorporate fresh faces into the system after graduating the Vikings’ top-three leading scorers from last season. Those losses accounted for 55 percent of the team’s scoring, 49 percent of the rebounds, 57 percent of the assists and 77 percent of the blocked shots in 2009–10. 

The new-look roster has led to some inconsistent play, but the loss of senior Phil Nelson has perhaps had the biggest impact. After missing the end of last season and most of this year with ankle problems, Nelson injured his ankle again in practice last week, and will now miss the remainder of the 2010–11 campaign. Without Nelson, the Vikings lose a wing player with an all-around skill set, their returning leading scorer, and valuable senior presence on the court.

Replacing the loss of Nelson, Geving found his scoring punch in Harriel, who currently leads the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game. The Vikings have used a balanced offensive attack throughout the season as the team continues to improve and define its identity. Fellow backcourt-mates Odum and senior Melvin Jones have provided scoring as well, averaging 13.5 and 11.8 points per game, respectively. Tapscott has controlled the pain up-front, tallying averages of 13.0 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game.

Portland State began Big Sky play with a disappointing loss at home on Dec. 5, but rebounded to earn their first conference win of the season against Idaho State on the road this past Sunday.

After a poor shooting first half, the Vikings were never able to recover against Northern Colorado at the Stott Center in their conference opener. Portland State shot 57.1 percent as a team in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a 10-26, 38.5 percent shooting first half and a 9:13 assist to turnover ratio for the game. The Vikings also entered the game shooting nearly 80 percent from the free throw line, but only managed to hit 9-17 free throws against Northern Colorado. 

Odum led the Vikings in the loss with 16 points, three assists and three rebounds. Harriel and Tapscott both scored in double figures for the game, with Tapscott scoring 15 points and grabbing five rebounds in 31 minutes. Although Harriel struggled to find his range from distance (2 of 8 three-pointers), he was able to contribute in other ways, putting up 15 points, six rebounds, two assists, three blocks and three steals.

Four days later, Portland State picked up its first Big Sky victory and first road win of the season, as they beat Idaho State 79-72. The Vikings found their shooting touch again, hitting 14 of 25 from beyond the arc and 11 for 17 from the charity stripe. Portland State was led by a career-high 21 points from Odum and a career-high 25 points by Harriel, who also nailed three 3-pointers in the final three minutes to seal the win.

“It was nice. It was my chance to step up and I was feeling it,” Harriel said. “I know how to shoot the ball and I was just letting it go.”

Next up, Portland State  plays host to Eastern Washington at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Stott Center.  ?