Friday, March 20, 2009

Experienced Xavier ends Vikings season: Xavier uses its size advantage in 77-59 victory over Portland State

The Portland State Vikings dance in the NCAA tournament ended in the first round for the second consecutive season in a 77-59 defeat to a physical, oversized and experienced Xavier team Friday in Boise.

Four Musketeer players scored in double digits, led by senior forward C.J. Anderson who scored ten of his 14 points in the second half.

“Xavier set the tone immediately,” said Portland State head coach Ken Bone. “They were very difficult to stop on one end and hard to get good shots off against on the other.”

PSU found themselves battling from behind early in the first half when Xavier used a 10-0 run to build a 17-7 lead.

However, the Vikings would rally behind inside baskets made by junior forward Jamie Jones and senior point guard Jeremiah Dominguez. The captain would score all of his 13 points in the first half.

Portland State rallied to take a narrow one point lead, 25-24, when senior guard Andre Murray hit a three-pointer with 8:35 remaining. The one point edge was the Vikings only lead in the game.

“The momentum was definitely turning our way when we got the lead,” Murray said. “But after that we kind of beat ourselves.”

Xavier responded with a 16-4 run that resulted in a commanding 40-29 lead. Portland State’s struggled with turnovers all game long and two consecutive giveaways by the Vikings helped Xavier regain the lead and capture the momentum on transition baskets.

The Vikings would get another taste of momentum when Murray drained another three with three seconds remaining in the first half to cut the Xavier lead to just seven points at the break, 42-35.

“Xavier played off their experience playing in the tournament,” Bone said. “They reacted right away whenever we tried to get something going and never panicked.”

In the second half the Atlantic-10 regular season conference champion Xavier used their commanding size advantage to take over the game and put away the underdog Vikings.

Xavier senior guard B.J. Raymond nailed a three-pointer, which was followed by a Derrick Brown alley-oop dunk moments later to give Xavier a 49-37 lead with less than five minutes into the second half.

Portland State never seemed to match the energy that Xavier brought to the game in the second half as the Musketeer lead reached as large as 23.

Xavier’s tenacious defense led to shutouts from two of the Portland State players that the squad had leaned heavily on during the six-game winning streak that preceded the first round game. Junior starting small forward Phil Nelson and junior reserve forward Julius Thomas were each held scoreless.

“I think that we just didn’t have the motivation at the end,” said junior forward Jamie Jones who finished with a team high 16 points. “It was just tough. A tough team, a good team.”

Even though the Vikings were outplayed by a team that on this night, looked far superior, Bone was satisfied with his team’s effort.

“I’m proud of the guys,” he said. “They left everything on the court and we just happened to run into a very good Xavier team. We did the best job we could.”

Xavier advanced to face the winner of the Florida State/Wisconsin first round game on Sunday.

posted by Tom Sedun, Vanguard staff

Closing Time: Xavier 77 Portland State 59

This NCAA Tournament appearance might have felt more businesslike for Portland State and the Vikings might have felt more comfortable competing and, by all accounts had a better chance of pulling of an upset, but the outcome is the same.

It finished up Xavier 77 and Portland State 59.

Portland State didn't force anyone to crumple up their bracket today as a response to surprise victory over a favored opponent. The Vikings didn't make school history. But they did put forth a valiant effort and the pieces merely failed to fall into place.

We will have more after the team's press conferences.

Slipping Away: Xavier 68 Portland State 47

Who would have thought that it would be Xavier that showcased the impressive transition game?

No, many, including possibly the Portland State coaching staff. However, that is what has happened as the Musketeers have opened up a 21-point second-half lead that began, in part, with Xavier's ability to run the floor and cash in on easy buckets.

Combine Xavier's transition success with the fact that the Vikings have gone ice cold from the field, and it looks like Portland State will exit its second consecutive NCAA Tournament with a loss. That is unless Jeremiah Dominguez and Co. are unable to catch fire in the final few minutes.

Held Back by Miscues: Xavier 59 Portland State 45

Jeremiah Dominguez is running the offense, Andre Murray is knocking down three-pointers and Jamie Jones has his patented left-hand hook falling perfectly in the paint, however, Portland State is struggling to stay with Xavier because of mental lapses and poor decision making.

On several trips down the floor, passes have been thrown behind a player on the run or directly into the hands of a Musketeer following the play. The Vikings have also allowed the Musketeers to leak out after a Portland State made basket to score an easy layup at the other end.

If Portland State wishes to notch its first NCAA Tournament victory in the school's history this evening, then the Vikings must cut down on these mistakes and begin to play smart enough to grind out a victory in this close matchup.

We'll find out if this happens in the next 10 minutes of play.

Halftime: Xavier 42 Portland State 35

If Ken Bone found out that heading into the second half of Portland State's opening round matchup with Xavier his team would be down only seven points, he would likely grimace momentarily before shaking his head approvingly and saying, "We can work with that."

And that truly is the case. Portland State has not played perfectly by any means, however, the Vikings are still fighting hard against an Xavier team that has appeared in the NCAA Tournament eight of the last nine years. That's not a moral victory, but rather a decent start to a game that many saw unfolding much differently.

Once again the stage broadens and senior point guard Jeremiah Dominguez's play matches the challenge. Dominguez scored 13 points in the first half, but his greatest contribution has been dictating the tempo of the game. When Dominguez has had the ball in his hands, things have unfolded nicely for the Vikings. When he hasn't, it has been hit or miss.

Portland State must figure out a way to rebound better in the second half, or at least keep Xavier off the offensive boards. There were a couple times in the first 20 minutes that the Musketeers' size and strength became apparent, and almost every time this occurred it was when Xavier was jockeying for offensive rebounds. The Musketeers have four offensive boards thus far.

Surprisingly the Vikings are still contending even though they are shooting only 42 percent from the three-point line. That is a fine percentage, however, in Portland State's biggest wins this season they have shot the three ball much better. This will certainly be something to keep an eye on in the second half.

Another thing to watch is whether forwards Phil Nelson and Julius Thomas improve their production. Currently both players have been held scoreless, and considering they Nelson and Thomas were significant contributors down the stretch of the season, it will be crucial for them to pick up the pace on the offensive end.

A Lead in the NCAA Tournament: Xavier 37 Portland State 29

With a flawless Andre Murray three-pointer, Portland State captured the lead for the first time this afternoon, and the roar of the boisterous, rowdy Vikings cheering section made sure everyone in Taco Bell Arena and those watching around the nation at home knew it.

Xavier has fired back immediately, and it is clear that they will not go down easy, either. Another thing that is becoming crystal clear is that this matchup is going to be a competitive one until the end.

Both teams are executing their game plans quite well and the action has carried on at a high intensity level without an interuptions or lulls. The two teams might play completely different forms of basketball, but their pairing makes for an entertaining affair.

Beginning to Settle In: Xavier 22 Portland State 18

After the Vikings had tied the score with a Jeremiah Dominguez three-pointer a few minutes into the game, Portland State went ice cold and the Musketeers pieced together a 10-point run.

A couple quick adjustments on the part of head coach Ken Bone, another Dominguez triple and then a big Kyle Coston three-pointer in the corner has brought the Vikings back into contention.

Portland State is still demonstrating great energy and quickness on both ends, however, the difference appears to be the Vikings are settling in and feeling a bit more comfortable. In the game's opening minutes Dominguez looked like the only Viking that had calmed his nerves and was playing within the flow of the game, but now center Jamie Jones is finding his place in the low post and guard Andre Murray is running the floor with more confidence.

Jones steps to the line to shoot a pair after a hard foul.

First Half: Xavier 12 Portland State 7

Things just kicked off here at Taco Bell Arena in Boise, and thus far the action looks to be pretty fast-paced, which favors Portland State in the end due to the Vikings lack of size and the team's overall quickness.

From the outset, senior point guard Jeremiah Dominguez has been impressive, scoring five of the Vikings' first seven points and looking extremely comfortable against this athletic Xavier squad. Dominguez is known for shining brightest when the stakes are the highest, so his play should act as an excellent barometer for how the Vikings will fare in this opening round matchup.

One immediate mismatch for Portland State is Dominguez drawing the assignment of 6-foot-5 guard Dante Jackson on the defensive end of the court. Dominguez, at only 5-6, may have a tough time contesting Jackson's shots and if Xavier almost always has a post-up opportunity in the paint if they choose to exploit it.

Band's Back at It

Many might remember that at the NCAA Tournament in Omaha, Neb., last year Portland State athletic director Torre Chisholm employed the services of the Cal State Fullerton's pep band for the Vikings' matchup with Kansas.

Well, Chisholm is at it again.

This time the Boise State band has thrown on the Portland State garb and actually played a pretty decent rendition of the school's fight song as the Vikings trotted onto the court. Minutes away from tipoff, there is a moderately full Portland State fan section, including head football coach Jerry Glanville, that is making some noise and also making the university look pretty legitimate.

That's the horn, and this thing is about to get underway.

Photos From Boise

Here's a glimpse at some of the masterful photography of the Vanguard's Rodrigo Melgarejo from Thursday's practice sessions.

Dominic Waters

Phil Nelson

Wendell Wright

B.J. Raymond

Kyle Coston

Kahle has record breaking outing as Vikings beat Portland to advance in WNIT Tourney

Though St. Patrick’s day has come and gone, Viking forward Kelsey Kahle is happy to still be seeing green.

“It feels like we’ve been playing in a red gym for a while,” Kahle said, referring to the Vikings last three games, all played at the University of Montana. “Its nice to be back in a green gym.”

With the home crowd behind her, Kahle poured in 30 points and collected 10 rebounds to lead the Vikings past the cross-town Portland Pilots, advancing to the second round of WNIT.

The 57-51 win represents Portland State’s first Division I post-season victory ever, and also the continuation of Kahle’s assault on the program’s record books. In her school-best seventh career 30 point game, Kahle also broke the school’s all-time rebounding record.

“I can’t even think of the words to describe how good it felt to play back home again,” she said after the game.

Though the home team proved triumphant at the end of the night, the visiting Pilots did not by any means roll over and die. Coming into the game, they were looking to avenge their 72-56 loss to the Vikings on November 26.

The Vikings jumped out to an early 19-10 lead, but the Pilots closed the gap and ended the half with a 15-2 run that put them up at the break, 25-21.

“We just kept battling,” Portland head coach Jim Sollars said of his team’s effort.

The Vikings looked to strike early in the second half, scoring the first two baskets on a Kahle lay-up and Lexi Bishop three-pointer. Bishop tallied a season high 12 points, making four of Portland State’s five three pointers on the night.

But the Pilots refused to back down, heading a 14-4 run that put them up 39-30 with 15 minutes left in the game. The Vikings’ cause was not helped by an off-shooting night from junior guard Claire Faucher, who went a dismal 0-10 from the field, making only a pair of free-throws for two points on the night.

But, in her usual style, Faucher dished a game high eight assists, many to the red-hot Kahle, who finished the night a scorching 11-12 from the field and 8-8 from the line.

Kahle and Bishop sparked a 15-2 Viking run that put the home-team ahead 45-41, but the Pilots rallied behind the stellar play of guard Laiken Dollente, who finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals.

It wasn’t until Kahle drained a jumper and hit a pair of free-throws in the final minute that the Vikings were able to distance themselves from their cross-town rivals. After the final buzzer, Kahle and her teammates already had their minds focused on the next hurtle in the road.

“Right now we’re all thinking about Saturday and going down to OSU again,” Kahle said.

Head coach Sherri Murrell echoed the sentiment.

“That’s the one game of the season we wanted back,” Murrell said, referring to the Beavers 58-24 drubbing of the Vikings on December 7. “All we need to do is figure out how to score,” she added.

If their first post-season game is any indication, the Vikings plan on meeting the Beavers with a much different looking team than earlier in the season.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at Gill Coliseum.

Written by Doug Cornett, Vanguard staff

A Little Different

For junior forward Kyle Coston, this trip to the NCAA Tournament is much different than last year.

One year ago the Vikings were a first-time March Madness participant and a lowly No. 16 seed that was matched up with national powerhouse and No. 1 seed Kansas. And in Omaha, Neb., Portland State was also in close proximity to Lawrence, Kan., where the eventual national champion Jayhawks call home, bringing the Vikings additional media attention and scrutiny from a host of reporters.

Portland State was under the microscope for a litany of reasons. But that is not the same this year in Boise.

Instead of fighting through crowds of TV reporters, radio hosts and print journalists just to speak with one of the team's players or head coach Ken Bone, there were only a few media members in the Vikings' locker room before practice Thursday. 

And while Portland State is still facing off against a program with a proud NCAA Tournament tradition in Xavier, who has made it to the Big Dance eight of the last nine years, the Musketeers are simply not the same caliber squad as Kansas.

"We're not seeing big lights, we're not seeing Kansas--we're seeing Xavier. And we feel like we have a good chance," Coston said. "We're not just a 16 seed."

Aside from everything else, the biggest difference between Portland State's NCAA Tournament appearances is the fact that as a No. 13 seed the Vikings truly do have a chance, as No. 13 seeds are 20-76 since 1985 while a No. 16 seed has never knocked off a top-seeded squad in the opening round.

Coston said the believability factor is certainly a major change from last season, mainly because Xavier actually has weaknesses that the Vikings might be able to exploit. This is something that the coaches have been harping on over the last week and a half, Coston said, as Bone as his staff have searched for ways to manipulate the Musketeers on both the offensive and defensive ends.

"It was fun just to get here last year. But, like the American dream, you always want more," Coston said.

Like Coston, sophomore forward Phil Nelson was looking loose as usual in the Vikings' locker room just minutes before practice on Thursday. Listening to music and hanging out on a sofa with his teammates, Nelson didn't appear to have a worry in the world. And after talking to him it is clear that is actually the case.

"We're feeling alright," Nelson said with a slight smile. "We're excited to be here, but at the same time it's just another game."

Nelson knows Xavier will be a challenge for the Vikings, as he specifically cited the team's length and ability to rebound the ball as strengths, but the Keizer, Ore., native continued to revert back to the Musketeers' proficiency at grabbing boards.

Above all, Nelson and Coston said the Portland State coaching staff has made it absolutely clear that if the Vikings hope to pull off an upset they must limit Xavier to only one opportunity on the offensive end, making snatching defensive rebounds crucial.

"Limiting them to one shot will be key," Nelson said. "That's how the game will end up."

Another key for Portland State will be pushing the ball up court and dictating the tempo to ensure it remains fast-paced throughout the 40-minute ordeal. With excellent size and strength, Coston compares Xavier to a team the Vikings nearly knocked off on the road this season: Washington.

"They are like a UW--athletic and long," Coston said. "And they play in a tougher league than the Big Sky."

However, despite the perceived shortcomings of Big Sky competition, Coston believes the Vikings have been tested enough times this season to put forth a valiant effort against Xavier. Coston is high on the Vikings non-conference schedule--headlined by matchups with Gonzaga, Washington and Baylor--and thinks the adversity the Vikings endured in those games will benefit them substantially when they walk on the floor in a few hours.

"Our preseason schedule was really designed for us to get to the tournament and play a team like this," Coston said.