Funny how the game of basketball is sometimes.

After making 4 of 18 shots in the University of Portland’s first three games, junior guard Tanner Riley found himself in a bench role for the first time this season Wednesday night against Portland State.

So when, coach Eric Reveno was asked, will Riley start again after playing the game of his career in an 81-60 rout of the Vikings at Chiles Center?

“Never,” Reveno said with a smile after the Pilots’ wire-to-wire romp of their intra-city rival.

Riley entered the game just a few minutes after tip-off and displayed a flawless shooting touch in a 23-point, 23-minute performance.

The 6-3 North Bend, Wash., native was 8 for 8 from the field, 4 for 4 from 3-point range and 3 for 3 from the foul line.

“I’d had a couple of rough shooting games,” Riley said. Reveno “is finding a way to motivate me. He wanted me to come off the bench and bring energy. I think I did that.”

Riley hit all four of his 3-pointers in the game’s first eight minutes and had 14 points in the first 9 1/2 minutes in helping stake the Pilots (2-2) to an early 29-13 lead.

Has Riley — who shot .392 from the field and .343 from 3-point range as a sophomore last season — ever had such a shooting night?

“Probably not as good as this one,” he said. “The first (3-point) shot was a bank shot. When I saw that go in, it got me going. I knew it was going to be a good night.”

Riley wasn’t the only Pilot who needed a heat check. The boys from The Bluff shot .714 (22 for 31) in rolling to a 51-30 halftime lead. This from a team averaging 55.7 points in its first three games.

“I focused on getting the guys to come out and compete,” Reveno said. “We changed things up defensively and tried to get us flying around and get (the Vikings) back on their heels.

“Before tonight, we were overthinking and hesitant offensively. As a coach, you feel like you’ve played below your ability. That didn’t happen tonight.”

Reveno was so revved up, he doubled as a cheerleader Wednesday night. During a timeout late in the first half, he waved his arms to implore the partisans in the crowd of 1,224 to cheer. They stood and complied.

“I think people were a little bit stunned,” Reveno said. “This is a basketball game, not an opera. Enjoy it.

“And we have good kids who work their tail off. They deserved a good round of applause. If the crowd didn’t appreciate that first half, they weren’t going to appreciate anything.”

The Pilots made only 9 of 29 shots in the second half, but the cushion was so large, the Vikings (1-2) never made a run. Midway through the half the UP lead was 67-42, and Reveno was able to get 12 players minutes.

It was a nightmarish evening for the visitors from the Park Blocks, who were nearly as bad at the defensive end as with their offense. They shot .357 — in no small part due to missing at least 10 cripples — and made just 2 of 15 attempts from beyond the arc.

The Pilots “had more energy; they had better effort,” PSU coach Tyler Geving said. “That was really the tale of the game. They came out and wanted it more than our guys did, and it showed. So credit to them.”

Observers were surprised Portland State played man-to-man defense most of the way against a UP team that had struggled facing zone in blowout losses to Ohio and Montana State.

“We tried it a little bit (near the end of the first half), and they hit 3s,” Geving said. “At that point, I’m not so sure it matters what defense you’re in. If you’re not going to play hard, if you’re not going to compete, it doesn’t matter what you’re in.”

“It was best-case scenario for us,” Reveno said. “We get a lead early, then we hit a shot against the zone the first time they played it. They wanted to play the zone, but we never really gave them the chance. They want to get up and down and run, too. But we were in control tonight.”

In PSU’s first two games, Dre Winston, a 6-1 sophomore guard who sat out last season after transferring from Washington State, hit 11 of 14 shots, including 4 of 6 from 3-point land, and averaged 15.5 points. Winston was 1 for 7 in the first half Wednesday night — 0 for 3 on treys — and finished 4 for 12 with 13 points and seven rebounds.

“He struggled a little bit, forced a few things, tried to do a little too much,” Geving said. “It’s a learning experience for him.”

Wednesday’s result doesn’t mean Portland will roll through its West Coast Conference opposition unscathed and Portland State is destined for the basement in the Big Sky Conference. The Pilots aren’t as good as they looked, the Vikings not as bad.

Portland has nearly everybody back from the team that went 7-24 last season and 3-13 in WCC play. The best players — 6-7 junior Ryan Nicholas, 6-5 sophomore Kevin Bailey and 6-11 sophomore Thomas van der Mars — will be plenty competitive with what the league has to offer. Riley proved he has the potential to join that group.

But the supporting cast is lacking, and freshmen Bryce Pressley, Oskars Reinfelds and Jake Ehlers aren’t equipped to provide immediate help.

“If you look at our body of work so far, it’s inconclusive,” Reveno said. “Against Montana State (in an 83-64 loss), we got down and didn’t respond well. That’s why I wanted to make sure we started better tonight.”

Portland State lost its best two players, guard Charles Odum and forward Chehales Tapscott, from the team that went 17-15 and finished third in the Big Sky with a 10-6 record last season.

Winston is a welcome addition, but the Vikings are extremely small, with a starting lineup that goes 6-8, 6-5, 6-3, 6-1 and 5-11. There will be some nights when they will be competitive against their conference brethren, but they’ll need to step up at the defensive end in particular to avoid getting steamrolled as they did Wednesday night.

Neither program is inspiring much interest these days as the sparce attendance at Chiles attests. Neither Reveno, in his seventh year at the UP helm, nor Geving, in his fourth season running the show at PSU, has recruited well enough to gather any momentum.

Both programs have major tests coming up prior to the start of conference action. The Pilots visit New Mexico on Sunday, Washington State on Dec. 1 and Kentucky on Dec. 8 and play host to Nevada-Las Vegas on Dec. 4. The Vikings are at Oklahoma State on Sunday and entertain Oregon State on Dec. 12 the Stott Center.

Reveno will want to bottle Wednesday’s first-half performance and bring it back out on a regular dose. He’ll probably have no trouble, either, convincing Riley that a sixth-man role is to his benefit.

“If I shoot like that,” Riley said, grinning, “Yeah.”

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