ON COLLEGE HOOPS/BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Six seniors help transition under new coach Barret Peery and in new, fast-paced system

The Portland State men's basketball team will be in unfamiliar surroundings this week. For only the second time in a 40-day stretch, the Vikings play in their home away from home, Pamplin Sports Center at Lewis & Clark College.

"To a man, everybody is going to be really excited to sleep in their own bed before games this week," first-year PSU coach Barret Peery says.

Montana State visits at 8 p.m. Thursday and Montana at 1 p.m. Saturday. Both are 4-0 in the Big Sky.

Portland State is 1-2 after a last-second victory at Idaho on a put-back basket by freshman guard Holland "Boo Boo" Woods. The Vikings scored the final six points to beat the preseason conference favorite.CANDA

"Coming down the stretch, we knew (the Vandals) were against the ropes because we were bringing pressure more and more," says Bryce Canda, one of six seniors who have turned a transition season under a new coach into one of the more entertaining college basketball shows around.

Playing a frenetic style reminiscent of the 1989-90 Loyola Marymount team that averaged 122 points per game, the Vikings got noticed during a 10-3 nonconference run that included wins over Stanford and California and competitive losses to Oregon, Butler and Duke.

"We don't spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy home wins like the big boys. And so, for us to have a record like that — that's all our guys. Our guys have been tough," Peery says.

Peery credits the buy-in from seniors Canda (16 points per game), Deontae North (21), Brandon Hollins, Ryan Edwards, Traylin Ferris and Braxton Tucker for getting his program off on the right foot.

"They're very experienced, they're very emotional, very passionate about what we're trying to do," Peery says. "These guys have really bought in to what we're trying to do. I think they believe in it. I think they're seeing the fruits of their labors."

With a little better shooting at Sacramento State and Eastern Washington, the Vikings might be unbeaten in the Big Sky. PSU has shot under 41 percent from the floor (including 25 percent on 3-pointers) and 62 percent from the foul line in league play. The result? Three of its four lowest-scoring games of the season.

"We had very good stats turning people over, offensive glass, the whole deal. We just didn't hit those shots around the rim or on the 3-point line to make (the other teams) pay," Peery says.

Still, the Vikings are averaging 89.9 points through 16 games. With five of their next seven and nine of their final 15 games at "home," they will try to top the program-record average of 91 set in 1976-77, when PSU's Freeman Williams was the top scorer in all of college basketball. 

Conference play is more competitive than nonconference games, regardless of the league. Teams are more dialed in on scouting reports and more motivated. "People care. People are working hard," Peery says. "In this league, there's a lot of good players, a lot of good coaches, and a lot of good home venues that are tough to win in."

The new Viking Pavilion won't open until next season, so PSU will try to make itself at home on Palatine Hill. Unfamiliar gyms are the norm for these Vikings, so playing six miles from campus is a treat.

"Playing in front of other crowds and refs on the road is something that will challenge you mentally," Canda says. "It's just going to feel good to be back in our own city, playing in front of our own fans."

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