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Beavers vanquish Vikings, but it doesn't come easy

by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Oregon State's Joe Burton goes for a hook shot over Portland State's Renado Parker as the Beavers defeat the Vikings 79-74 Wednesday night at Stott Center. Burton had a game-high 20 points, and Parker shared PSU scoring honors with 16 points, as the Vikings (1-5) played the Beavers (6-2) tough before a nonconference sellout crowd of 1,500.When is defeat not really a loss at all?

Well, never, really.

But as moral victories go, Portland State’s 79-74 setback to Oregon State Wednesday night at Stott Center would merit strong consideration.

The Big Sky Conference Vikings took a 1-4 record into Wednesday’s matchup with the Pac-12 Beavers and hadn’t won in more than a month.

The talent and size disparities between the teams were striking.

Yet the Beavers (6-2) never really put away the Vikings, who scrapped and competed right to the final horn.

“It’s frustrating,” Portland State coach Tyler Geving said. “We played well enough to win tonight. We just didn’t get it done, but we’re making progress.”

Portland State jumped out to a 12-3 lead — it took Oregon State six minutes to score its first basket — and the Vikings still led 22-13 with eight minutes left in the first half. To that point, the Beavers were missing layups and overpassing. Meanwhile, the patient Viks were milking clock and scoring both outside and inside against Oregon State’s ineffective man-to-man defense.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO; CHRISTOPHER ONSOTT - Portland State point guard Lateef McMullan fends off an Oregon State double-team at Stott Center Wednesday night. Oregon State won 79-74.The game turned when OSU coach Craig Robinson went to a 1-3-1 halfcourt trapping defense. Suddenly, the Vikings could hardly even get up a shot, committing turnovers on their next three possessions. The Beavers closed the half on a 19-4 run to take a 32-26 lead into intermission.

“We came out as if this were going to be a game in Gill (Coliseum) and didn’t realize the Vikings were going to play a really hard game,” Robinson said. “This was one of the biggest games of their season. We had to adjust our intensity level, which the guys did (a) terrific (job of), using the 1-3-1 for some energy. And then we righted the ship.”

Sort of. It was never smooth sailing for the Beavers, who led 59-45 with eight minutes to go but allowed the Vikings to get to within 65-59 with 2 1/2 minutes to play. The hosts trailed 69-64 and had the ball with a minute to go, but a turnover gave the Beavers the ball back, and they made just enough free throws down the stretch to emerge victorious.

“We were right there,” Geving said. “We get it down to a one-possession game and maybe they get a little tight and the pressure’s on them.

“We competed; we played well. To do that against a Pac-12 team, we need to be encouraged by it.”

Robinson said he finally turned to the 1-3-1 because “we needed an infusion of energy. We were pretty lethargic.”

“We’ve been playing pretty well and were due to have a bad game,” the fifth-year OSU coach said. “And it was exacerbated by the fact we were on the road in a small gym. I’m not saying I expected this, but it was bound to happen. We have to learn how to win those games, anyway. That was a good sign.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Jarmal Reid of Oregon State goes up for a layup at Portland State.PSU’s coaches were surprised the Beavers didn’t go to the trap earlier. Geving said he spoke with predecessor Ken Bone — now head coach at Washington State — earlier in the day.

“He said, ‘What do you think?’ “ Geving said. “I said, ‘Man, I hope they don’t run that 1-3-1 at us.’ You can’t simulate Collier, Moreland and Burton in practice, with their length and athleticism.

“We had a plan — it may not have looked like it, but we knew they had it in their repertoire. We thought if we got ahead they might throw it on us. We weren’t surprised by it. We panicked and made some poor decisions, but that’s a credit to them. It’s just stinking good defense.”

Oregon State won without a semblance of a perimeter attack. The Beavers were 1 for 6 from 3-point range, with chief bomber Ahmad Starks missing in action. The diminuitive junior finished 0 for 4 from the field and didn’t score until sinking four straight free throws in the game’s final 23 seconds.

Starks’ backcourt mate, Roberto Nelson, scored 16 points but did most of his damage driving to the hoop.

The Beavers won on their superior strength inside, with front-line performers Devon Collier, Joe Burton and Eric Moreland combining for 59 points and 19 rebounds. They won despite being outscored in fast-break points 14-2.

“This was a game for the guys down low,” Robinson said. “You score 56 points in the paint, that’s what you do. You don’t need a perimeter game when you can score in the paint like that.”

A perimeter game could have kept the PSU defense honest, of course. The Vikings’ defensive plan was sound — stay out on Starks and Nelson and sag in and pack the paint on everyone else.

“They were trying to take Ahmad and me out of the game, but we have great low-post men,” said Nelson, who had a game-high six assists. “They carried the load for us tonight.”

Collier (23 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals), Burton (20 points, seven rebounds) and Moreland (14 points, seven boards, three blocks) were simply too much for the Vikings, though 6-8 junior Aaron Moore (14 points on 7-for-7 shooting and six rebounds) and 6-5 Renado Parker (16 points on 8-for-13 shooting) battled gamely.

“They played us hard,” Robinson said. “It was just what we needed. We needed a true away game where we were going to get tested, and (the Vikings) did it.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Portland State guard Renado Parker was 8 of 13 from the field against Oregon State.It wasn’t a “true away” game in any sense, really. There were probably more OSU fans than PSU fans in the sellout crowd of 1,500 in the Vikings’ bandbox gym.

Nelson’s appraisal was more accurate.

“We didn’t prepare mentally for these guys, and they had a lot of time to prepare for us,” OSU’s senior shooting guard said. “We can’t overlook a team like this, especially coming to their place. They were ready to play.”

Robinson grew frustrated enough that he drew a technical foul late in the first half.

“I didn’t swear at the guy,” he said. “I made a call and he screamed at me. I was like, ‘Look, you can’t scream at me,’ and he gave me a tech.”

Robinson scheduled the game at Stott in part to allow Beaver fans in Portland to see a game there.

“Plus, playing in a smaller gym would help us recreate what we feel on the road in a conference game,” he said. “And I want to be a good citizen of the state of Oregon. This is good for us and for the Vikings. We’re a little bit happier than them, because we won.”

Maybe. The Vikings — despite 19 turnovers, resulting in 27 OSU points — had nothing to hang their heads about, though, in taking the Beavers to the wire.

I asked Geving to compare Oregon State and Oregon. The Vikings lost 80-69 at Eugene on Nov. 12.

“I think they’re both NCAA Tournament teams,” the PSU coach said. “Oregon probably has a little more depth. Losing (injured center Angus) Brandt is a big loss for (the Beavers). Throw him in that lineup and — whoo — they’re really good.

“But I still think Oregon State has a chance to finish third, fourth, fifth in the Pac-12 and make a run at the NCAA Tournament.”

It’s been 22 years — Gary Payton’s senior year — since the Beavers have made it to the Big Dance. They’ll have to be much better than they were at Stott Wednesday night if they are to make a return visit next March.

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