Game #9-038: Idaho State at Portland PilotsNovember 15, 2012 10:00 pm
My first game of Season 9's Game was between the Portland Pilots and Idaho State Bengals at Portland's Chiles Center. This was a game between two teams who were somewhat unknown quantities going into this season. For Idaho State, this was because there was so much new about them. They start 2012-13 with Bill Evans, their third coach in two seasons. Last year Joe O'Brien left in midseason and the replacement, one of his assistants, later admitted to possible recruiting violations. As if the coaching situation wasn't enough ISU lost their top two players as well. They were left with a team of six returning players, and a roster with not a lot of Division I experience. Not surprisingly they've been predicted to finish at or near the bottom of the Big Sky by the various preseason publications.
The Pilots had a lot of questions going into this season as well. Last year, with a team heavy on freshmen and a brutal schedule they went 7-24 and 3-13 in the WCC. They will have to improve on those numbers almost by default this campaign. What's not yet clear is how much better they will be. Thursday's home opener, would start to provide some of the answers. As Pilot fans already knew, a Rhino would play a significant role.
Ryan Nicholas is nicknamed Rhino partly for his given name and partly because he plays like one. He's strong and physical in the post on both offense and defense. He can also make a superhoop every now and then, but tonight he did most of his work in the paint, scoring a game high 22 points and leading Portland in rebounds with 8.
ISU came out in the first half moving the ball quickly around the perimeter to find an open shooter, who in many cases would try a superhoop. The Bengals made six superhoops in the first half with their leading scorer Chris Hansen making three of them as he would finish with 15 points. Once the Pilots countered by using their size advantage, mainly in the form of Nicholas, they were able to catch up and take a 30-29 lead at the half. A big reason they took so long to take the lead, and that they didn't extend it to any more than five or six points, was how slowly they ran their offense. They would routinely run 20 or 25 seconds off the shot clock before running a play. Portland probably was unsure how to attack ISU's zone but they still have a number of players not used to stepping up and taking a shot. This will need to change over the season if the Pilots are to improve. In the end it was good to see a Pilot win (also good to have a pregame talk with Kenny Ocker of Under a Blood Red Line) and a good performance from their leader. If the team follows the example Nicholas sets there will be more to come.