A 'great' win for Portland State
The first 20 minutes of Thursday's Big Sky men's basketball game at Viking Pavilion was full-throttle, Barret Peery basketball.
The second 20 was about toughing it out as Portland State secured an important 88-81 win over conference-leading Montana.
By capping a rugged January with a win in their lone home game in a stretch of 25 days, the Vikings improved to 11-12, 5-6 in Big Sky games. The Grizzlies (11-10, 7-3) started the night in first place and ended it second, one game behind Eastern Washington (13-6, 6-2).
"Montana's a good team, but we think we're a great team, too," Portland State junior guard Holland "Boo Boo" Woods said after scoring a career-high 39 points and setting PSU and Big Sky records by going 21 for 21 from the foul lines. "No matter what the standings are right now, we think we're the best team in the league. We've got a tough team and tough coaches that are going to push us every single day."
January challenged the Vikings, who played six of nine games away from Portland and during one stretch played six times in 15 days.
So it was more than just a meaningful win that had the Viks smiling Thursday. They don't play again until Feb. 8, giving them a welcome eight-day run without a game. "I don't know if any team has ever been looking forward to a week without a game more than us," Peery said. "We're a team that's pretty banged up with all these games."
Portland State took it to Montana through the first half, building a 49-30 halftime lead with the kind of relentless pressure and aggressive rebounding that Peery preaches.
"The ball was really moving," Peery said about the energetic first half. "We defended. We got 17 points off turnovers, so good things happened for us."
The Viks also had a 20-11 rebounding edge in the first half and turned seven offensive boards into 12 second-chance points.
At halftime, Woods had 17 points, four assists, three rebounds and four of PSU's eight steals.
"It started with defense. When we play great defense, we can make a run," Woods said. "That's what we're best at, playing in transition, making a team backpedal and keeping teams on their toes. You've just got to keep guarding, keep rebounding and going one-and-done on the defensive end and we'll be good."
Peery expected a second-half push from Montana and got it. The Grizzlies rallied to within five points in the final minute, but had no answer for Woods.
Early in the half, he hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push Portland State's lead to 22, the second of them a transition trey from deep, deep on the right wing.
"I just was feeling it. I felt like we were going on a run right there," Woods said. "It's a gutsy shot. It's a shot you see Damian Lillard take a lot. That can really demoralize a team when you hit a shot like that. It's something I work on."
Holland Woods Sr. spent a few tours with the Harlem Globetrotters before Boo Boo was born and taught his young son a move he used to break the press late in the game. With 20 seconds left and Montana within five points, Woods broke pressure by bouncing the ball between the legs of Montana's Derrick Carter-Hollinger to get into the front court.
Woods then made four more foul shots to seal the deal.
"I thought I only shot about 12 (free throws)," Woods said. "To see I made 21 is a pretty cool deal."
Also cool is the break in the schedule.
"Guys are banged up. We've battled injuries. I'm banged up a little bit," Woods said. "But we got guys that just keep pushing through it. That break's going to be nice."
Senior guard Matt Hauser, PSU's second leading scorer, missed his seventh consecutive game with an ankle injury; his absence has added to the January challenge for the Vikings.
But all nine Vikings who played scored, eight grabbed a rebound and seven had an assist. Sal Nuhu had 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.
And the Viks held top Montana scorer Sayeed Pridgett to 14 points, five below his average.
"We had great contributions from everybody," Peery said. "With Matt's injury, we've been able to get other guys great experience and just get ourselves stronger and stronger for the stretch run."
That stretch run for the Vikings includes playing five of the last seven at home, beginning with their next home game at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, against Eastern Washington.
"Our guys have really hung in there," Peery said. "We've lost some close games that have really been heartbreaking for us, but we won some really great games, too."
Thursday's certainly counts as one of those.
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