Saturday the Vikings will travel to Cheney, Washington to take on the Eastern Washington Eagles. EWU has already wrapped up the Big Sky regular season title with a 10-game winning streak. One of those wins came against the Vikings in Portland back on January 24. This was a disappointing loss for the Vikings as they came out strong in the first half and then handed the win to the Eagles midway through the second half. The Eagles played tough, causing the Vikings to get frustrated and lose patience in the last ten minutes of the game.
It was during the last meeting between the Vikings and the Eagles that many of the Viking players fouled out late in the game. One foul ended up causing Eagle senior Brendon Merritt’s shoulder to come out. The Eagle’s head coach, Ray Giacoletti had this to say about his star player Brendon Merritt, “It’s been amazing. He started out this season with a broken hand, struggled shooting the basketball, yet never missed a practice and never missed a game. He just kind of fought through it. His shoulder came out a month ago at Portland State. He shot with his right hand, and he’s been wearing a green jersey ever since at practice so we don’t touch him … It’s a great lesson for all of us. If you stay focused and keep working, good things are going to happen.”
Merritt has worked hard this season despite his injuries. He was named Men’s Basketball Player of the Week for games played February 12-14. Merritt’s 21.5 point-per-game average (for the two games played Feb. 12-14), helped the Eagles claim the Big Sky regular season title. Merritt will no doubt come onto the Eagle’s home court this Saturday looking to play another winning game against the Vikings.
In addition to Merritt, the Eagles have senior Alvin Snow and junior Marc Axton. Snow is ranked sixth in the Big Sky in scoring, averaging 14.6 points per game. He is also ranked ninth for assists (3.04 per game) and sixth for steals (1.67 per game). Snow was named the Big Sky Player of the Week for games played January 5-10. Snow scored 24 points and had 10 rebounds in Eastern Washington’s 79-68 loss to Montana. In the game Snow hit 3-of-5 three-point attempts and also recorded two steals and two assists. In a 70-55 victory over Montana State Snow scored 18 points and had five rebounds to go along with five steals and four assists. A senior from Seattle, Wash., Snow shot 50 percent from the field during the week and made 5-of-6 free throw attempts.
Marc Axton also adds to the winning advantage for the Eagles. Axton is ranked in the top fifteen for scoring, defensive rebounding and field goal percentage in the Big Sky. Axton was named Big Sky Player of the Week for games played January 29-31. Axton led the Eagles to two home wins and scored a career-high 25 points against Weber State.
The Vikings are coming off two big wins last week. The lineup of starting players such as junior forward Seamus Boxley, junior forward Blake Walker, and freshman forward Marshall Hartman mixed with key players senior center Seth Scott, junior forward Antone Jarrell and junior guard Will Funn, Portland State has seemingly begun to gel. The team has improved in the win department, and they have held the lead for rebounding margin in the Big Sky (positive 5.2 margin) through the majority of the conference. They have worked on their defense, getting stronger with each game, and it has paid off. Portland State has out-rebounded 22 of 24 opponents this season. That is quite excellent. Not to mention they already have 44 dunks in 24 games this season up from only 25 dunks in 27 games last season. Another interesting fact is that every Viking player has at least two blocked shots this season except senior/guard John Glaser. Seamus Boxley, Seth Scott, and Antone Jarrell are all among the league leaders in blocked shots, as a team the Viks rank third overall. Boxley is Portland State’s all-time leader in shot blocking, while Scott ranks in the top ten.
The Vikings are currently 5-6 in the Big Sky, and regardless of Saturday night’s outcome, they deserve recognition from their fans for an improved season. Viking Head Coach Heath Schroyer said this about last week’s wins and upcoming road games, “We’re getting better. We’re starting to play better together and it’s just taken the guys a while to gel. They are still learning about each other and the system … We did what we had to do the last week at home. We now have to figure out how to beat teams on the road that we lost to at home. We know we have to win some road games.”