Vikings' goal: Upper half Big Sky finish
CORVALLIS - For more than 30 minutes Sunday night, Portland State stayed within striking distance of an upset at Gill Coliseum.
Then Oregon State kicked into overdrive and left the Vikings in the rear-view mirror with a 101-68 thumping.
Portland State was within 69-59 when OSU's Ahmad Starks drained a 3-pointer with 9:25 to play. From that point, Oregon State outscored the visitors 32-9 and turned a contest into a rout.
'I thought we played closer than what the scores says,' Portland State coach Tyler Geving said.
The Vikings did. They fell behind 23-10 early, but got enough accomplished to make things a little uncomfortable for Beaver Nation as late as midway through the second half.
'I liked the way we played the first 32 minutes,' Geving said. 'We competed, we played hard, and then we ran out of gas a little bit.'
Oregon State's defensive pressure led to 28 points off of 18 Portland State turnovers.
'We wore their guards out,' OSU coach Craig Robinson said. 'Portland State did a terrific job hanging with us. That's a good team, and we knew that.
'We wore those guys out, and it was good to see that our guys were able to just hang in there until we had a chance to make a good separation.'
The Beavers didn't attempt a free throw until Roberto Nelson went 1 for 2 with 12:13 remaining.
The Beavers 'get to the free throw line 30 times a game,' Geving said. 'Part of our game plan was to keep them off the free-throw line and make them beat you from the outside. And they did.'
Oregon State shot a scorching .597 from the field. And the Beavers - who entered the game shooting a so-so .328 from 3-point range - were 13 of 21 (.619) from beyond the arc.
'It's not surprising to me,' Robinson declared. 'We've been shooting the ball well lately. The 3-point shot kept us in there when (the Vikings) were making runs. They were trading twos for threes.'
Portland State (6-5) has only three seniors, but they're all starters, and two of them are the team's best players - 6-5 forward Chehales Tapscott and 6-0 guard Charles Odum.
Tapscott, who had 18 points, four rebounds and three assists Sunday night, plays bigger than he is. The former Century High standout averages 14.1 points and a team-high 8.9 rebounds, shoots 51 percent from the field and figures to be one of the better players in the Big Sky Conference this season.
'Every night, you can count on what you're going to get from Chehales,' said Geving, in his third year as PSU's head coach. 'He is going to have a great year in league play. If we are to have a chance to win the league, he has to be an MVP-caliber player.'
Odum averages a team-high 16.5 points and pairs in the backcourt with Lateef McMullan, a 5-11 junior transfer from Citrus College in Glendora, Calif. McMullen, who entered the game shooting .310 from the field, had a team- and season-high 19 points Sunday night.
'His first six or seven games were (spent) getting used to the Division I level and playing against quicker guys,' Geving said. 'And when you drive in there in junior college, there aren't 6-11 guys waiting for you.
'It has taken him a little while to adjust. The last three or four games, he has played at a high level. He is going to be good for us.'
Portland State made 6 of 15 3-point attempts against Oregon State to boost its seasonal percentage to a tepid .259.
'But our percentage has gone way up the last few games,' Geving said. 'You just go on streaks sometimes, and for whatever reason, we weren't hitting a lot of them early. I think we'll continue to shoot well.'
Portland State was picked for fifth place in the Big Sky in both the media and coaches' polls. Weber State, Montana and Northern Colorado are considered the favorites.
'We need to be in the top four,' said Geving, whose Vikings finished 14-16 last season. 'That's a legitimate goal for us.'
Oregon State's aspirations are higher in the inaugural Pac-12 Conference season. The Beavers are 9-2, the school's best start since the 1989-90 season. That was Jimmy Anderson's first year as coach and Gary Payton's senior season, and OSU went 22-7 overall in snaring a share of the Pac-10 championship with a 15-3 conference record.
The Beavers haven't had a winning league mark since then, but they have a chance this season. After a non-league visit to 0-11 Chicago State on Wednesday, they begin an 18-game conference schedule with games at Washington (Dec. 29) and Washington State (Dec. 31).
For the first time in Robinson's four years at OSU, the Beavers are taking care of business. They have had only one blemish on their record - a listless home loss to Idaho three days after the death of OSU football player Fred Thompson. In a high-profile tournament at East Rutherford, N.J., they scored a milestone win over Texas, then lost by two points to a ranked Vanderbilt team.
Junior guard Jared Cunningham is one of the Pac-12's premier players, but he has plenty of help. Robinson's rotation includes nine players, and six of them scored in double figures Sunday night.
There were 27 assists - nine by point forward Joe Burton, eight by Cunningham - and 10 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots in 18 minutes by promising 6-10 freshman Eric Moreland. Junior center Angus Brandt was 7 of 8 from the field and finished with 16 points, four boards and three assists. And Starks and Nelson combined to sink 8 of 11 from behind the 3-point stripe.
'I've been talking about the teamwork and camaraderie of this group from day one,' Robinson said. 'When you have leaders like Jared and Kevin (McShane) and Angus, who are selfless, you develop that kind of environment. No one cares who scores what.'
If there were ever a chance for Oregon State to make some noise in conference, this is the year.
Zero Pac-12 teams are ranked among the nation's top 25.
Stanford (9-1), California (9-2) and Arizona (7-4) are good teams.
The rest of the group is lacking.
Arizona State (4-6) fell to Northern Arizona on Saturday. UCLA (4-5) lost back-to-back at home to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State. Southern Cal (4-7) has scored fewer than 60 points seven times, including a 42-36 loss to Cal Poly. Utah (2-8) lost 70-64 to Montana State and got drilled 75-47 by Harvard. Washington (5-5) lost 92-73 Sunday to South Dakota State.
The Beavers, Geving said, 'are very good. (Robinson) has a team that has a chance to maybe even go to the NCAA Tournament. He has some players and some depth, and I really like their team.'
Portland State lost 79-70 at Oregon last Monday in a game in which the Vikings trailed by three points with a minute to go.
'Oregon State's probably a little ahead right now,' Geving said, 'but the Ducks are going to get better as the season goes along. Both of them have a legitimate shot at making a tournament run.'
That's what Robinson has in his plans, too.
For his first three seasons, the Beavers were chasing wins over more highly acclaimed conference opponents.
'Now the shoe's on the other foot,' Robinson said. Opponents 'will be trying to knock us off. I don't think we'll surprise anybody going forward.'