Needing an Idaho State loss to advance to the Big Sky tournament, the Vikings did their part with a raucous 93-92 overtime win over Montana Saturday afternoon at the Stott Center that featured a bench-clearing brawl as the final buzzer sounded. Monday night, the Idaho State Bengals supplied the help by losing 94-87 to Eastern Washington, securing Portland State’s second straight tournament berth.
“It’s great news, it was looking pretty bleak,” said head coach Ken Bone after his team squeaked into the tournament. “It’s exciting for our guys since we had dug such a deep hole and now we get a chance to go to the conference tournament.”
To have a chance to advance, the Vikings first had to contend with a Montana team that had won 20 games for the first time since 1997. With so much riding on a Viking win, “senior night” turned physical and nasty early. With less than four minutes to play in the first half, Vikings point guard Ryan Sommer and Montana’s Matt Martin tangled for a loose ball that resulted in a jump ball being called.
Sommer hit the ground and Vikings forward Juma Kamara came to Sommer’s aid, bumping chests with Morris and Virgil Mathews as the two sides shouted at each other. Offsetting double technicals were called on Kamara and Mathews. Just before the break, Vikings starting quarterback Sawyer Smith and linebacker D.J. Robinson, who were attending the game as fans, were ejected after inappropriate taunting.
Later, with the Vikings leading 93-92, a scrum for the ball as the clock hit zero resulted in a bench-clearing confrontation as Montana guard Kevin Criswell and Josh Neeley got into it. Neeley apparently threw the ball at Criswell’s head after the buzzer sounded. Before Criswell could respond, Vikings center Scott Morrison intervened and threw a punch, earning Morrison a one-game suspension from the Big Sky.
“Guys got tangled up and emotions were high,” Neeley said of the incident. “We were going at it all game long.” Neeley went on to deny that he threw the ball at Criswell’s head and video evidence proved to be inconclusive. Neeley and Morrison were tossed retroactively from the game for their involvement in the fight.
Portland State got out to a hot start, taking a 13-6 lead after a Jake Schroeder three and a thunderous alley-oop from Juma Kamara to junior center Anthony Washington. The Vikings played the Grizzlies tough in the first half, leading most of the way until Montana forward Andrew Strait dunked as time ran out to give the Grizzlies a 33-30 lead going into the break.
The Vikings started the second half hot and regained the lead 34-33 on a pair of Ryan Sommer free throws. Portland State took its largest lead of the game 68-52 on another Sommer free throw following senior forward Tyler Hollist’s lone basket, a two-handed slam after a well executed fast break.
The Grizzlies refused to fold and broke the Vikings down with full-court pressure and traps after Sommer, the Vikings’ best ball handler, fouled out with 3:30 left to play. Over the next three and a half minutes Montana outscored the Vikings 26-10 as Portland State was plagued by turnovers.
With 22 seconds left and the score tied at 78, senior captain Jake Schroeder stood at the foul line with a chance to put the Vikings up by two, but he missed both free throws. Montana was unable to score after a quick timeout, sending the game into overtime.
Five seconds into the extra period, Schroeder made up for his gaffe at the charity stripe by hitting a 25-foot three-pointer. Fellow senior Josh Neeley followed Schroeder’s shot with his own three.
“I was just glad to get into OT [after missing the free throws],” Schroeder said. “I was probably going to shoot no matter what.”
After the Vikings built an 86-79 lead, the Grizzlies stormed back to within one at 93-92 after Stuart Mayes hit a high-arcing three.
True freshman Tyrell Mara, in to spell his exhausted teammates, missed two free throws with nine seconds left. The Grizzlies raced back down the court with a chance to steal the game but were unable to convert a shot as a 15-foot runner clanked off wide left and time expired before another shot could be attempted.
Juniors Anthony Washington and Juma Kamara led the Vikings with 18 points each. Washington had a game-high nine rebounds. Jake Schroeder had 17 and Josh Neeley added 16. Sophomore guard Ryan Sommer played an intense, well-rounded game, scoring 15 points to go with seven assists and five steals before fouling out in the second half.
“I though we played well,” Bone said. “We knew the run was coming. Montana did a good job of executing their offense and scoring. Until the last five minutes I thought we played a great game.”
Coupled with Idaho State’s Monday night loss to Eastern Washington, the win gives the Vikings the sixth seed in the Big Sky tournament, hosted this year by Northern Arizona.
“We know we’re better than our record says,” Schroeder said. “I think we have a good chance as anyone [in the tournament]. We’re peaking at the right time.”
The Vikings will travel to Cheney, Wash., on March 4, to take on the Eagles in a quarterfinal matchup.