Portland Pilots top PSU Vikings in men's basketball
If Tuesday's cross-town basketball contest between the Portland Pilots and the Portland State Vikings was a snapshot of how the transition process is going for both programs, the Pilots will enjoy the image.
It's a picture the Vikings might want to delete.
Portland's defense set the tone in the first half and Portland State never threatened in the second half of the Pilots' 69-54 win Nov. 23 at Viking Pavilion.
After the first cross-town game for first-year head coaches Shantay Legans at Portland and Jase Coburn at Portland State, it's safe to say Legans was in the better mood.
"I was most proud with how our guys defended and rebounded. I thought it was terrific the way they played. The way they flew around, put their body on the line, took some charges," Legans said.
Four Pilots scored in double figures, but it was defense and rebounding (51-43 edge) that proved vital to Portland building a commanding first-half lead.
Portland State shot only 31% and missed all nine of its 3-point shots in the first half en route to finishing 2 of 23 on 3-pointers.
"First half, we didn't guard. Second half, we did a better job defensively — which is what we are. We're a defensive team first," Coburn said.
So are the Pilots. PSU had some good looks roll off the rim early, especially after offensive rebounds. But Portland was the more active team defending in the half court, and once the Vikings saw good looks miss, they seemed to lose patience.
"We started off a little shaky, but once we got it together, you see we're a hard team to score on," Portland forward Tyler Robertson said of the defensive performance. "I think overall our defensive game has been most impressive, considering it's only our sixth game together."
Yes, it's the sixth game this season. But Robertson, Mike Meadows and Jack Perry followed Legans and assistant coaches Bobby Suarez and T.J. Lipold from Eastern Washington to Portland. So, while the Pilots have 14 newcomers and only two players who are upperclassmen in terms of eligibility, that bit of familiarity seems to be helping the Pilots get off to an encouraging start.
Tuesday's win was the fifth in a row for Portland, following an opening loss at Arizona State.
Portland State is 2-2, but 0-2 against Division I opponents. The Vikings step up in competition on Friday, Nov. 26, with a game at Iowa. Coburn will be looking for a better performance at the defensive end.
"We didn't pressure the ball well. We didn't guard the ball well, kind of opened up the 3-point line for them," Coburn said. "We've been guarding ball really well all year. Tonight, we just didn't do it."
For Portland, Robertson, a 6-6 guard/forward from Melbourne, Australia, played 38 minutes Tuesday, scoring 12 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out five assists. In his third season playing for Legans, he provides a steadiness for the Pilots.
"The coaches have done a really good job of instilling confidence in every single player that comes in," Robertson said. "And having that confidence from the coaches has helped us be able to build each and every game. From game to game, we've consistently got better."
Next for UP come three games in three days at the Incarnate Word Tournament in San Antonio, Texas, beginning at noon Friday against Montana State.
The Pilots used two bursts — including a 17-0 run late in the first half — to take command. Portland led 37-20 at halftime and by as many as 26 points early in the second half.
Chris Austin, a 6-4 sophomore who played at Fordham last season, led the Pilots with 15 points and also grabbed nine rebounds. Moses Wood had 10 points and 10 boards.
In addition to what Legans described as high basketball intelligence on his roster, Portland has some size to work with. Matheus Silveira, a 7-foot sophomore from Brazil in his third college season, finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots in 19 minutes. He is working his way back from injury, but was a handful down low against PSU.
Legans also is high on 6-10 freshman Vasilije Vucinic from Montenegro.
Senior 6-8 forward James Jean-Marie, a transfer from Hawaii, led Portland State with 17 points, 10 rebounds and a blocked shot. Senior guard Ezekiel Alley, a transfer from Northwest Nazarene, had 11 points and a team-high three assists off the bench.
Coburn said his team took good shots, for the most part, but saw too many makeable shots roll off the rim. It didn't help that 6-10 senior Khalid Thomas played only eight minutes in the first half after picking up a couple of quick fouls on the perimeter.
The bitter result is one the Vikings will learn from, Coburn said.
"Every opportunity like this can be a learning opportunity," he said. "It just depends what we do with it."
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