The Grizzlies and the Vikings honored a 24-second moment of silence to honor a fallen titan before the two squads squared off on Thursday night in Portland.
Holland “Boo Boo” Woods wore a Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers warm-up jersey to pay homage to the basketball icon that lost his life as age 41 in a helicopter accident on Sunday.
And in front of an energetic crowd of 1,704 at Vikings Pavilion, Woods played like someone trying to leave a mark of his own and Portland State continued to own Montana when the two teams play on the West Coast.
The precocious, entertaining junior point guard lit it up from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half, drilling a 3-poitner at the buzzer to put an exclamation point on a 49-30 lead a the break for Portland State. After halftime, he hit just two of his seven shots from the floor but still completely dominated the action against the Griz.
The 6-footer with an impeccable handle converted 16 consecutive free throws after halftime and made all 21 of his attempts from the charity stripe, setting a Big Sky Conference single-game record on the way to scoring a career-high 39 points. That virtuoso effort helped lift PSU to an 88-81 victory that was only that close in the final minutes as the Vikings dominated the Griz in the City of Roses.
The previous record of 20 free throws in a game was held by Montana’s Ron Moore (1966), Boise State’s Tanoka Beard (1992), Eastern Washington’s Tyler Harvey (2014) & Southern Utah’s Randy Onwuasor (2017).
PSU is now 5-6 in league play after playing just its fourth league home game. The loss is Montana’s second straight in Big Sky play and drops the two-time defending league champions to 7-3 in league.
“It was a tale of two halves,” UM sixth-year head coach Travis DeCuire said on the Grizzly Radio Network. “We talked about getting 50-50 balls, keeping them off the glass. We knew we had to guard a lot one-on-one. But our effort and our energy needed to be at a high level and we did not start off like that.
“We practiced our press break for days and we start with the wrong guy throwing the ball in bounds, which results in a turnover. We just mentally were not good at the start and it snowballed.”
Wood hit a 3-pointer with 15:15 left that gave Portland State a 63-41 lead, the largest gap of the contest. The PSU advantage lingered in the teens for most of the next 10 minutes before two more Woods free throws pushed it to 71-51 with 8:58 left.
A Derrick Carter-Hollinger dunk off a Sayeed Pridgett assists in transition followed by a Pridgett jumper cut the lead to single digits, 77-68, with 1:22 left. To that point, PSU had led by more than 10 for nearly 30 straight minutes.
In the final minute, an Eddy Egun 3-pointer and a Timmy Falls layup in transition off an Egun steal helped UM shave the margin to 84-79 with 28 seconds left. But every time Montana made a push, Woods found his way to the stripe.
Woods scored 14 points from the free throw line in the final 9:36, including 10 in the final 1:22.
“(Woods) came ready to play, there’s no question about that,” DeCuire said. “He hit some tough shots, a couple of deep 3s, got to the paint at will. He was a problem in transition and he hurt us with all those points. We were trying to trap him and get the ball out of his hands so we could foul someone else but he is a great job and he did a good job of forcing us to foul him.
“Credit to a good basketball player.”
The scoring outburst aside, Portland State dominated almost every aspect of the game. PSU pushed the lead to double digits in 11 minutes and pretty much never looked back. The Vikings forced 22 turnovers and scored 28 points off of those Griz giveaways. PSU also earned a 33-29 advantage on the glass, including 11 offensive rebounds leading to 16 second-chance points.
PSU senior Sal Nuhu, who did not play in when the Vikings lost 85-70 at Montana earlier this month, added 10 points on a night where PSU shot 47.5 percent from the floor and hit 23 of 26 from the free throw line.
Pridgett and fellow Griz senior Kendal Manuel got going offensively late in the game but it proved to be too little, too late. Manuel finished with a team-high 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting. But the former Oregon State player hit just one of his five attempts from beyond the arc. He scored 13 of his points when th Griz were already down 20.
“It took us until halftime to settle down,” DeCuire said. “We came out and held them to 37 percent shooting (in the second half), played Griz basketball, but it wasn’t good enough.”
Pridgett scored nine of his 14 points in the final 13 minutes but only one bucket cut the lead to less than 10. Jared Samuelson, UM’s third senior, managed to play only five minutes.
In Samuelson’s place, true freshman Carter-Hollinger poured in 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting in 35 minutes of action. Falls scored 14 points but battled foul trouble as the primary defender on Woods, who drew 12 fouls Thursday night.
“Our toughness had to be challenged at halftme and some point, we have to play with a sense of pride in this setting,” DeCuire said. “We weren’t doing that in the first half. We had some stretches late in the first half where we saw signs of things we could execute. So we started the second half with that group (including Carter-Hollinger and Egun) again.”
Egun, a redshirt freshman who entered the game playing just 2.3 minutes per game in league play, played the final 15 minutes of the game. He ended up hitting a pair of 3-pointers and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.
“He was focused on just a couple things: defending and rebounding,” DeCuire said. “If your mind is in the right place and you are focused on the right things, things will work out.”
Montana’s attention now turns to the 300th matchup all-time against rival Montana State. The Grizzlies will gun for their 18th rivalry win in the last 19 matchups against the Bobcats on Saturday night in Bozeman.
“It will be a great environment,” DeCuire said. “We will put some stuff on paper, present it to the guys and try to tighten up a couple of things without exerting ourselves too much tomorrow just because we won’t be as fresh. We have some guys who played a lot of minutes.
“We have to be careful how we prepared but most of it is mental anyways. With the environment we are going to have Saturday night, these guys would be juiced to play.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.