It's not often you see TV trucks outside Portland State's arena, the Stott Center. While the Portland Pilots appear a couple times a season on the ESPN networks thanks to the WCC's TV deal, and usually a handful of other times on regional cable (this year the local Comcast Sports affiliate is carrying nine conference games), only three Viking games will be televised this season. But Sunday's game was picked by Altitude TV as their Big Sky Game of the Week. PSU probably was happy this particular game, against Montana, was the one picked up for TV.
Montana is the team PSU fans get up for the most, as does most of the rest of the conference. The big reason for this is Montana's status as the biggest football program in a conference that takes the sport seriously. Montana has won multiple Division I-AA/FCS national championships and made the semifinals this year. Montana also travels very well and has a good number of alumni in the Portland area. The Grizzlies are not bad at basketball either, with eight NCAA appearances, most recently in 2010. They could help their chances for a ninth NCAA trip today, as a win would put them into a tie for first with Weber State. In the Big Sky, the regular-season champion hosts the semifinals and championship game of the conference tournament. The two quarterfinals, including the third- through sixth-place teams, are on the campuses of the third and fourth seeds. PSU could stay in the hunt for fourth and a home game with a victory.
As I settled into my comfortable seat nearly at midcourt, I noticed that PSU had gotten their video board up and running. It came from the former PGE Park, now Jeld-Wen Field, when the stadium was renovated last year. It's a nice asset for PSU to have in their arena, and as I've seen at Portland games there's many uses for it. You can show highlights, put up statistics, and run promotional videos for basketball and other sports, among other things. The band is also entertaining, being a local group that plays events around the Portland area They have the usual pep band standards, plus some newer pop material, including what Kyle referred to last year as, ahem, "The Cee-Lo Song." The concessions are nothing special but the prices are low and the gym is in the middle of the city and easy to get to. Overall, I really enjoy going to Portland State basketball when the Pilots aren't playing. From reading recaps this season I get the feeling the Stott Center is similar to a lot of gyms on the East Coast. They're small, but get loud when they're filled and the crowd in into it.
About the only thing I can do without is the announcer who must think he's trying out for an NBA job, the way he yells into the microphone whenever he's talking about the Vikings. When there's a foul or violation on them, you can tell his disbelief from the tone of his voice. And when the other team scores, you can barely hear who made the basket he talks so quietly. He's probably not trying to be funny here, but I can't help but smile at these parts of his routine.
Unfortunately for the Vikings their announcer was barely intelligible for most of the game as Montana pulled away until they held a 13-point lead with 10 minutes to go. Too many Viking possessions ended in easy shots that they missed, or bad passes stolen by the Grizzlies (they gave away 21.3 percent of their possessions), much to the dismay of the alumni around me. Charles Odum and Chehales Tapscott, their two biggest producers, finished with 19 and 14 points respectively, and Tapscott had 16 rebounds. For Montana, the top performer was Will Cherry with 20 points and 5 steals. This game matched up two of the most efficient offenses in the conference. On the defensive end however, Montana allows the fewest points per possession in the Big Sky, while PSU ranks dead last. The difference was clear Sunday, as the Grizzlies' ball movement resulted in lots of open looks that they converted.
For all that went wrong for most of the game, however, the Vikings nearly came all the way back. With a minute to go the score was 65-61 Montana, and a few missed free throws and Viking superhoops made it 68-67 with four seconds left and Montana going to the line. The second free throw was off the mark, PSU rebounded and started down the floor, looking for a shot to win or tie, and then...a defender knocked away the ball. The Vikings never got a shot off. Montana 69, Portland State 67. The Vikings' last trip down the floor was a fitting end to the game in general. They turned the ball over too many times, not even giving themselves a chance to shoot. It was a tough end to the game for the Vikings and their fans but I still enjoyed the finish after it looked like the game was going to get out of hand. Like the Pilots, the Vikings may not be the best team, but they are still well worth watching.
MONTANA 69, at PORTLAND STATE 67 01/29/2012
MONTANA 15-6 (8-1) -- J. Green 3-8 9-11 18; K. Jamar 5-9 1-2 11; D. Selvig 4-9 0-1 10; W. Cherry 6-10 7-8 20; A. Steward 2-7 0-0 4; M. Ward 6-10 6-7 18; S. Stockton 2-3 2-3 6; J. Wood 0-1 0-0 0; E. Hutchison 0-0 0-0 0; K. DeShields 0-1 0-0 0; K. Henderson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-50 16-21 69. PORTLAND STATE 10-11 (4-5) -- C. Tapscott 4-11 5-8 14; C. Odum 4-9 11-13 19; L. McMullan 1-7 1-3 3; M. Harthun 3-6 0-0 9; R. Parker 5-8 0-0 10; G. Winston 3-5 0-0 8; N. Lozeau 2-6 0-0 4. Totals 22-52 17-24 67.
Three-point goals: UMT 3-13 (J. Wood 0-1; D. Selvig 2-4; S. Stockton 0-1; M. Ward 0-1; W. Cherry 1-5; A. Steward 0-1), POST 6-12 (M. Harthun 3-5; L. McMullan 0-1; C. Odum 0-2; C. Tapscott 1-2; G. Winston 2-2); Rebounds: UMT 21 (D. Selvig 9), POST 37 (C. Tapscott 16); Assists: UMT 12 (K. Jamar 4), POST 11 (C. Odum 4); Total Fouls -- UMT 21, POST 16; Fouled Out: UMT-None; POST-None.