PORTLAND PILOTS PLAY TERRY PORTER'S WAY
Hoops team shows traits of former Blazer who's now the coach
The Portland Pilots men's basketball team will have better performances. Surviving a Monday scare from a 2-8 opponent won't do much for the Pilots' RPI.
But early in the Terry Porter era on The Bluff, Monday's 90-89 double-overtime victory of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley indicates the players are taking on the personality of the former Trail Blazers guard.
They showed Porter-like toughness in clawing back from a 13-point deficit over the final six minutes. They showed the competitive fire Porter was known for during the Blazers' two runs to the NBA finals in the early 1990s. And — by scoring on the final possession of regulation and each overtime period — they showed they can play without fear with the game on the line.
Right in the middle of it all was freshman post Joseph Smoyer. In the first extensive minutes (28) of his college career, the Franklin High grad scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots. His slam dunk in the final second of regulation forced overtime.
Porter was pleased, but not surprised, to see the 6-10 Smoyer contribute. The coach kept Smoyer on the floor for the second-half rally and all 10 overtime minutes.
"His development's been amazing since he stepped on campus," Porter said, "from just learning our system to just having some natural basketball instincts."
Contributing to a dramatic win will only help Smoyer feel at home with the Pilots.
"This game is all about confidence," Porter said. "So hopefully it gives him a lot of confidence, and when he's called upon next time he's able just feel relaxed and still go out there and play with poise and do the things he did tonight. He did a great job rebounding and making finishes at the rim."
The play that sent Monday's game to overtime demonstrated Smoyer's basketball instincts. Alec Wintering — who through eight games is among the most productive point guards in college basketball — drove the baseline with time running out and the Pilots down two. Wintering drew the entire defense and flipped the ball to Smoyer, who dunked it with less than a second on the clock.
"I saw Al go baseline. I thought he was going to shoot it, but I went to the basket just in case so he could have an option to pass the ball. I got the ball and was able to finish, so that was great," Smoyer said.
The Pilots — 5-3 including losses to UCLA and Dayton at the Wooden Classic — are a guard-driven team. In Wintering, a fourth-year starter, they have a dynamic leader who can lift them by scoring or distributing. As he climbs the Pilots record books in points and assists, he is performing like an extension of Porter on the court.
"I'm blessed to have him run our team and show great leadership on and off the court," Porter said. "He's one of those guys you want to go to battle with."
The Pilots battled on Monday. UT Rio Grande Valley led by as many as 13 points in the second half and by nine with three minutes left. The Pilots never led in the second half and forced OT with a 12-3 run. At the end of the first OT, a spinning layup from Jazz Johnson extended the game. And, when Wintering missed his driving attempt at the end of the second extra period, Gabe Taylor was there for the game-winning putback.
"Amazing for our team and our process," Porter said.
Monday's victory would have been less labor intensive had the Pilots cashed in on their freebies. Portland — which entered the game shooting 85 percent from the line — missed 18 of 41 foul shots.
"It was great to see our guys get some tough adversity and fight through it and come out with a great win," Porter said. "Hopefully when we get faced with this again ... we can come back to this game and know if we continue to stay aggressive, continue to work together at both ends of the floor and make plays we can get a positive result."
Wintering and Johnson have been one of the most productive tandems in the country this season. They entered Monday's game as the third-highest scoring teammates in the country with 40.0 points per game. On Nov. 25 against Cal State Northridge, they combined for 62 points, the most by a duo in University of Portland history.
Wintering played all 50 minutes on Monday and finished with 24 points.
Johnson, a sophomore from Lake Oswego, is averaging more than 18 points per game and is among the top 3-point shooters in the country, hitting 48.6 percent.
Porter said he is pleased with the team's early progress.
"I'm just excited about the rest of our season," he said. "We know it's a process, and we know we're going to have some bumps along the way. But we also know that in order to get to where we want to go there is going to have to be some adversity and those are going to be learning experiences for us."
While leaning on a fourth-year starter (Wintering) this season, Porter also is building a foundation for the future. The Pilots signed four players during the November early signing period, including a pair of international prospects who came through connections with Pilots assistant coaches. Taki Fahrensohn is a 6-5 guard from Auckland who plays for the New Zealand youth national team. Tahirou Diabate is a 6-10 post from Nilgate, Japan.
JoJo Walker, a 6-1 point guard from Santa Maria, California, was the CIF Southern Section 5A MVP and led St. Joseph High to the 2016 CIF state title. Porter also added size from in junior-college post Austin Stone out of South Carolina.
"We needed a good start with recruiting," Porter said. "And they are not only four kids, but are kids we needed that will bring a different presence to our roster (with) physicality, size, the ability to shoot, the ability to lead."