Coronavirus pulled the plug on PSU surge
Winners of six consecutive games and healthy for the first time all season, the Portland State men's basketball team rolled into Boise, Idaho last week feeling good about its chances of winning the Big Sky tournament title.
The Vikings were eating a pregame meal four hours before their quarterfinal against Montana State when the news came that the tournament was being canceled because of the coronavirus. And so, even before the NCAA cancelled its men's tournament, the Vikings knew they couldn't be a part of it.
It was disheartening news for a team that was just finding its stride, and especially for six PSU seniors whose college basketball careers likely ended.
It was a bizarre end to a topsy-turvy season for Portland State. The Vikings finished 18-14. By going 8-2 over their last 10 games, they surged into fourth place in the conference standings at 10-8 to earn a bye into the quarterfinals of the league tournament.
"This was a fun group. They were really fun kids on and off the floor," third-year coach Barret Peery said.
Portland State was challenged by a series of injuries that meant 10 players made at least one start for the Vikings.
"That's almost unheard of," Peery said.
For a coach who wants his team to play full-time, full-court basketball at a high tempo, the depth lost to injuries was a challenge.
Adding to that challenge, PSU was the lone wolf on the Big Sky circuit this season.
In the 11-team league, one program has no traveling partner and thus has an unbalanced schedule. That was the Vikings this season. Twice in league play they played four times over eight days, and another time they had three games in six days.
"For our guys to do what they did given those challenges was impressive," Peery said.
No Vik was more impressive than Holland "Boo Boo" Woods. The 6-1 junior out of Phoenix, Arizona was a first-team all-conference selection after averaging 17.7 points and 5.2 assists per game. He led the Big Sky in steals (2.1), was fifth on the league's scoring list and ranked second in assists.
His 165 career steals are the most in program history, with one year to add to that total. His 1,387 points through three seasons place him fifth in PSU career scoring.
"Boo Boo had a very strong year. I'm very happy for him to get first-team all-conference recognition," Peery said.
Woods set a program and Big Sky record on Jan. 30, making all 21 of his free throws on his way to a career-high 39 points in a home win over Montana. He averaged 21 points over the last five games.
After Woods, the next six leading scorers for the Viks were seniors.
Center Sal Nuhu, despite battling injuries, earned honorable mention after leading the Big Sky in blocked shots (2.2) and ranking fourth in rebounds (7.2). In his second season at PSU, the 6-8 native of Bronx, New York averaged 10.3 points in 27 minutes per game.
Nuhu was one of six seniors on this year's squad. Four were transfers, including Clackamas native Markus Golder, who averaged 5.7 points and 3.0 rebounds while playing 16 minutes per game.
The ankle injury that cost the team's second-leading scorer, Matt Hauser, seven games in the middle of conference play was a tough blow. A 6-2 graduate transfer from Santa Clara, Hauser averaged 14.4 points and 32 minutes.
Alonzo Walker started all 20 conference games and averaged 10.1 points and 4.4 rebonds in Big Sky action. It was the second Big Sky season for the Toronto native, a 6-6 forward who came to PSU as a grad transfer after playing the previous season at Idaho State.
Coming off the bench, Rashaad Goolsby was second on the team in rebounds per game (4.7) and Lamar Hamrick shot .478 from 3-point range and scored 9.5 points per conference game.
Moving forward, Woods will be the clear leader of a program that will look to add three or four recruits before summer.
The underclassmen who played the most this season were 6-5 guards Ian Burke from Phoenix, Arizona and Kyle Greeley out of West Salem High.
A transfer from Seattle University, Burke averaged 4.2 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 17.6 minutes. Greeley averaged 5.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in 12 minutes as a redshirt freshman.
Two high school guards — 6-4 Kimani Holt from Phoenix, Arizona and 6-0 Paris Dawson from Corona, California — signed letters-of-intent with PSU in November. Peery plans to add three or four more newcomers.
Peery was on campus this week as his players focused on winter term final exams. Normally, this would be one of the busiest recruiting periods of the year, but as part of its response to the coronavirus threat, the NCAA imposed a ban on all in-person recruiting until at least April 15.
Peery — 54-44 with the Vikings — said his plan for the next month is to spend time with his family and stay close to home.
Family provided a crowning moment at season's end — one that allowed Peery and his players to celebrate on the floor of Boise's CenturyLink Arena before heading home.
In the hours after the conference tournament was canceled, an idea was hatched and things fell into place. That evening, surrounded by family members and the Viking team, PSU associate head coach Jase Coburn married his fiancee Lindsay Meiggs on the floor where basketballs were silent.
"That," Peery said, "was a neat experience for everyone."
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