Viks drown Hornets with high-flying heroics

The Blake Walker Roadshow came to Sacramento, Calif. Saturday night and those who witnessed it, including many of Walker’s family and friends from Southern California, will not soon forget it.

Two days after scoring 17 second-half points to ensure PSU beat Northern Arizona, Walker scored a game-high 26 points to go with 10 rebounds to help the Vikings overcome an ice-cold second half and stave off the Sacramento State Hornets 71-66 in Sacramento, Calif.

"I always like playing in front of my family," said Walker. "They don’t get many opportunities to see me and it’s more fun when they get to see me."

More fun for Walker, and more fun for the lucky fans who get to witness his jaw-dropping plays.

For the first act in the roadshow, Walker got the Viks off to a quick start with four early points and keyed a later 9-0 run with a sensational alley-oop three-point play. Walker skied above the rim, caught a Will Funn pass and threw down over Hornets big-man Aaron Perry while drawing the foul. Walker converted the free throw and followed it up with a three-pointer seconds later to give the Vikings a 29-19 lead.

The Vikings would extend the lead to 14 twice, but settled for an 11-point lead heading into the half. Walker and Seamus Boxley each scored 12 points in a first half dominated by the Vikings. The Vikings had yet to lose this year when leading at the half (13-0); the Hornets had won their last eight conference home games and seven straight home games this year. Going into the second half something had to give.

What gave was the Vikings’ shooting.

After shooting 56 percent in the first half, PSU shot a woeful 20.7 percent in the second half. Yet despite missing their first 12 shots from the floor to start the half, the Vikings held the equally cold Hornets in check defensively and still had a six-point lead with 13 minutes remaining.

The Hornets reaped the rewards of head coach Jerome Jenkins’ decision to put point guard DaShawn Freeman into the second-half starting lineup. Freeman played the entire second half after playing only one minute in the first half. He energized the Hornets’ stagnant one-on-one offense that had produced only one first-half assist and made life difficult for Vikings guard Will Funn, who had coasted to eight first-half assists.

High-flying Hornet guard Jameel Pugh found better looks thanks to the improved ball movement and drained four second-half three-pointers, the fourth tying the game for the first time in the second half at 62-62.

Funn only managed one assist in the second half and fouled out with 2:42 left in the game. The free throws resulting from Funn’s fifth foul tied the game again at 64-64, and left the Vikings needing someone to step up.

Luckily, Act Two of the BW Roadshow was about to begin.

With 2:05 remaining in the game, Walker drifted to the left baseline corner, caught an Antone Jarrell pass with the shot clock winding down, elevated, and nailed a three-pointer to give the Vikings a 67-64 lead. After the teams exchanged a pair of made free throws, Walker sealed the victory by nailing two free throws with two seconds left.

Walker’s all-around performance overshadowed another dominant night from likely Big Sky Player of the Year Seamus Boxley, who notched his sixth double-double of the season with 23 points and 14 rebounds. His strong work on the boards was critical to establishing the Vikings’ 53-37 margin and made surviving the poor shooting much more bearable.

With their eighth conference win, the Vikings assured themselves of their first berth in the conference tournament since the 2001-02 season and remained on track to host it as the team with the best regular season conference record. The eight conference wins are also the most the program has had since the 1998-99 season, when teams played a 16-game conference schedule as opposed to the current 14-game schedule.

The Vikings host the defending league champion Eastern Washington Eagles at the Stott Center Saturday night at 7 p.m. A third consecutive sellout is expected and many will be eager to see what Walker has in store for his next act.

Walker is making no promises though. "I don’t anticipate dunks, if the ball is in the air I just go up and get it," he said. "I’m not a special dunker."

Don’t try and tell that to the people who witnessed the Roadshow.

Notes: Boxley’s 55 points and 27 rebounds on the weekend road trip earned him his third Big Sky Player of the Week award. He is currently ranked 15th in the nation in scoring at 20.2 points per game and is second in the Big Sky in rebounding with 7.8 per game… Junior forward Tyler Hollist fouled out with no points nine minutes into the second half, but kept alive a remarkable streak. Since he capped PSU’s Jan. 8 victory over Northern Arizona with a dunk in the final minute, Hollist has made the most three-point baskets on the team (12) but hasn’t made a single two-point basket. That’s six games and over 118 minutes of court time. During that time, a whopping 94 percent of Hollist’s attempts have been of the three-point variety (32 of 34)… With 21 assists over the weekend, Will Funn is second in the nation in assists per game with 7.86.