Why we lost

Tuesday night, while Mount St. Helens erupted into the sky, the Vikings’ offense imploded and brought a harsh and unexpected end to a magical season.

The top-seeded Viks were unable to find their shooting touch against the fifth-seeded Weber State Wildcats and lost the semifinal of the Big Sky conference tournament 71-61 in frustrating fashion.

A win would have put the Viks in Wednesday’s tournament finals on national television with a bid to the NCAA tournament up for grabs. The loss, the third in the team’s last four games, denied the Viks their first 20-win season in nearly 50 years and ensured they won’t be playing in March Madness.

With over a week off to prepare and a raucous home crowd cheering their every move, the Vikings came out of warm-ups displaying the intensity that led them to their first regular season championship. Head Coach Heath Schroyer took advantage of his team’s obvious advantage in athleticism by having the Viks apply full-court pressure to disrupt the Wildcats offense and wear down their thin bench.

The pressure was somewhat effective and the Viks seemed to be overwhelming the smaller Wildcats, but Weber’s unexpected hot outside shooting kept them close in a first half that saw seven lead changes and eight ties. Weber came into the game making barely 31 percent of their threes, the lowest percentage in the conference, but made four of six first half threes and nearly 60 percent of all their field goals.

Even more important than the Cats hot shooting was the play of junior guard Terrell Stovall. Early foul trouble for the Wildcats’ leading scorer Lance Allred led to extended minutes for Stovall. At 6-3 and a muscular 185 lbs., Stovall proved to be the first conference guard able to slow down Vikings All-Big Sky point guard Will Funn. Funn looked frustrated with Stovall’s physical defense and lost on Stovall’s aggressive drives to the basket. Funn finished with nine assists and 11 points but never got in the comfort zone where he was so effective.

"He’s a good point guard," Stovall said of Funn later, "but he backs off in post defense and I tried to take advantage of that and bring forth what I can for my team."

Stovall, who came in averaging 9.4 points per game for he season and 16.8 points per game off the bench over the last five games, finished the first half with 14 points on four of seven shooting from the field and five of five shooting from the line. He finished with a team-high 20 points. His performance would help earn him a spot on the All-Tournament team Wednesday.

"I always thought Stovall was very capable of going off," Schroyer said. "He just picked the wrong night to do it."

Coric Riggs added 12 first-half points and the Wildcats headed into half with a 40-34 lead they would never relinquish.

"They came out really hard that first five minutes," Riggs said. "But once we survived that initial burst that they came out with we were pretty much okay."

Big Sky MVP Seamus Boxley almost single-handedly kept the Viks in the game in the first half by running the court like a gazelle for 17 points and five rebounds, but when he didn’t score during the first seven and a half minutes of the second half the Wildcats extended their lead to 11.

Boxley’s second-half struggles were nothing compared to the rest of the team. The Viks came in as the 13th best shooting team in the country making 49.6 percent of their field goals but shot 30.3 percent in the second half and 40 percent for the game – a season low for a conference home game.

Unlike the court at the Stott Center, the Coliseum’s floor has both college and NBA three-point lines painted on it, with the deeper NBA line painted in more visible black and the college line painted red. Players in the other semifinal attributed their shooting struggles to being confused by the NBA three-point line on the floor used at the Memorial Coliseum. Boxley and Blake Walker shrugged off the different court after the game, but it appeared that many of the players on both teams – most notably Vikings sharpshooter Jake Schroeder – were lining up deeper than they normally would and miscalculating the distances. Schroeder missed all five of his three-point attempts and the Vikings as a team were a woeful two for 13.

Despite their shooting problems, the Viks battled back by holding the Wildcats scoreless for a seven minute and 39 second stretch that ended with 1:35 left in the game. During that time PSU forced seven turnovers and brought the quieted crowd back to life.

The deafening roar emanating from the student section flustered the smooth-running Wildcats offense into a 35 second violation and allowed PSU to trap the Weber wing players and steal the ball.

"I didn’t know if we were ever going to score again," Cravens said.

Playing with the same energy that had propelled them in the first 10 minutes, it appeared only a matter of time until the Viks overwhelmed the Cats and retook the lead. But five turnovers of their own, an easy lay-up missed by Will Funn and an assortment of missed opportunities kept the Viks at bay.

"I thought we had some pretty good looks coming down the second half but the ball just didn’t bounce our way," Schroyer said. "I thought we had some possessions defensively that we had our hands on some balls, we had some deflections and we just didn’t come up with it."

When Seamus Boxley brought the Viks within three on a lay-up with two minutes remaining the 4320 fans on hand rose to their feet thinking PSU might have one more trick left in its magical season but it wasn’t to be. Riggs made a tough jumper and was fouled. He converted the free throw to give the Cats a 61-56 lead.

Weber State proceeded to show why it came in as the best free throw shooting team in the conference by making nine of 10 free throws to end the Viks chance to dance with a 71-61 victory.

Boxley finished his stellar PSU career with game highs of 24 points and 12 rebounds and was named to the All-Tournament team. He held back the tears as he thanked PSU’s fans, "To come and have people support you and treat you like that means a lot to us. It also hurts that we couldn’t get it done for them tonight."

Blake Walker added 16 points. The two helped hold Allred to six points and eight rebounds, well below his averages of 18 and 12. "If you would have told me he would have had a night like that I would have told you we would have won," Schroyer said.

Coach Cravens attributed the victory to his team peaking at the right time but seemed genuinely sorry for Portland State. "With what they’ve accomplished this year it’s a shame they have to lose in the conference tournament," he said.

Schroyer was obviously disappointed but focused on the positives. "I’ve never been more proud of a team. By no means does this discredit what we’ve accomplished this season."