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VIKING WATCH: PSU takes 3-OT momentum onto road

by: COURTESY OF STEVE BRENNER - Gary Winston, Portland State guard, helped the Vikings knock off Montana for their first Big Sky win of the season.It took four games — and three overtimes — but Portland State got it done.

The Vikings got their first Big Sky men's basketball victory of the season, and in dramatic fashion.

Guard Gary Winston buried a 3-pointer from the right side with 2.6 seconds left Saturday night at Stott Center to beat defending conference champion Montana 81-78.

PSU (1-3 Big Sky) had rallied from nine points down in the final 3 1/2 minutes of regulation, and the Grizzlies (1-3) erased a seven-point deficit in the closing 2 1/2 minutes of the second OT to stay alive.

"Wild game," PSU coach Tyler Geving says. "Sure nice to come out on the winning end."

Geving doesn't want to think about how it would have felt to lose that one.

And the Vikings played with the desperation of a team that knew it had to have a victory.

"It wasn't do or die," he says, "but the guys were hungry."

A close game was no surprise. Two nights earlier, the Viks had lost 79-76 to Montana State in a game at Stott Center that had 14 ties and 14 lead changes.

"That's the thing about our league — there's going to be a lot of parity," Geving says.

Montana State shot 56.3 percent from the field against the Vikings, going 8 of 15 from long range. The next night, Montana managed only 43.5 percent from the floor, with 7 of 20 from beyond the arc.

Before meeting the Grizzlies, "we talked about giving 3 to 5 percent more on defense," Geving says. "There's such a fine line — did you get through the screen or did you get screened? It's a tad more effort, the difference between getting your hand up and really get your hand up on a shot.

"Two or three possessions can make the difference in the game."

The Vikings also went primarily with a zone defense, as did Montana.

Geving says the way officials are calling fouls and the talents of offensive players make zone defense perhaps a better way to go for his club.

"We're starting to find out that we're probably a better zone than man-to-man team," he says. "It's hard to guard dribble penetration these days — guys are more athletic and better with the ball than they were maybe 10 years ago. If you can't guard it, you get exposed, and I thought we got exposed in the Montana State game."

PSU's offense succeeded against Montana, meanwhile, by sinking a season-high 12 shots from 3-point range (on 27 attempts).

The decisive blow was Winston's catch-and-shoot 3 on a designed two-man play with point guard Tim Douglas.

Winston had scored all six PSU points in the third OT, and Geving figured Montana would be looking for him. But Douglas runs the offense and had 18 points, so he was a threat to make a final play, as well.

So Douglas had the ball, going to his left behind a screen set by Winston. Then Winston rolled off the screen and Douglas turned around and made a short pass back to him — and the move allowed Winston enough space to get off a good look.

"Everybody (on Montana) kind of went with the ball, assuming Tim was going to shoot it," Geving says, "and Gary just popped and was open. Our best shooter. Tim made a nice play, and the defense was a half-second late."

The guard-oriented Vikings (read: smallish) aren't going anywhere this season without good play from their backcourt, and they have been getting that from different players on different nights.

They got it both nights last weekend from Marcus Hall, a 6-4 senior who technically is no longer a guard for PSU. Hall has replaced power forward Aaron Moore, who is off the team as of last week. Hall had back-to-back 21-point games in the MSU-Montana match-ups, managing to score that many against the Griz despite taking only seven shots from the field (he made five).

"Marcus had two very efficient games and rebounded well and guarded guys bigger than him," Geving says. "With Aaron gone, we've got to play him at the 4. He's undersized, but he's a tough kid and probably our toughest defender. He's not going to back down."

Portland State goes back on the road this week — where the Viks have lost 20 in a row dating to 2011. PSU plays at 7 p.m. Thursday at Sacramento State, then hits the floor at 2 p.m. PT Saturday at Northern Arizona.

Geving says he'll be cognizant of the altitude at Flagstaff, Ariz.

"The first 10 minutes of that game are crucial — we've got to stay close and substitute," he says. "The altitude gets to you probably the first 10 minutes, especially on the second day of a trip like that. So we'll want to let our guys catch their second wind, and then I think we'll be all right."

And, Geving hopes the excitement of pulling out a win over a good Montana team will carry over and help the Vikings snap their road skid.

"Hopefully we can get some momentum out of the Montana game," he says. "We've been on the other side — last year we lost in overtime to Weber State in a game we should have won, and it affected it us a little bit."

BIG SKY MEN'S BASKETBALL STANDINGS

Northern Colorado 4-0

Montana State 3-1

Weber State 3-1

Northern Arizona 2-1

Eastern Washington 2-2

Idaho State 2-2

North Dakota 2-2

Montana 1-3

Portland State 1-3

Sacramento State 1-3

Southern Utah 0-3