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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Portland St. tops EWU

EWU's Marc Axton takes a charge and draws a foul off Portland State's Seamus Boxley.
 (Christopher Anderson/ / The Spokesman-Review)

There were many good reasons to pick the Portland State men’s basketball team as the Big Sky Conference team to beat before the season except for one thing – the Vikings were last a year ago.

Turns out that may have been the best reason to pick them first instead of second.

“We realize we were on the bottom a year ago and we know what that felt like,” senior forward Seamus Boxley said. “We didn’t like that. … We’re playing like there is no tomorrow.”

Today the Vikings can feel good, courtesy of their eighth straight win, a convincing 70-59 win over Eastern Washington before 2,393 fans at Reese Court Saturday night.

PSU (4-0, 12-4) knocked off the defending Big Sky champion Eagles (2-1, 5-11) with good shooting and balance. The Vikings shot 55 percent from the field, led by Boxley, who made 6 of 8 shots for 15 points. Jake Schroeder made 5 of 8, including four 3-pointers, for 16 points, matching the total of Blake Walker, who made 10 of 14 free throws. Will Funn had 10 points and eight assists.

“We have a lot of confidence in each other,” Boxley said. “We’re more than a one- or two-player team. We’re more of a threat when everyone contributes.”

Meanwhile, the Eagles, if they’re confident, it’s a fragile confidence.

“It’s very frustrating,” Eastern coach Mike Burns said. “One of the things that we have said is that this team, being young, our goal is to keep improving with every game. We didn’t get better tonight. That was a little disappointing. You have to give Portland State credit.”

Sophomore forward Matt Nelson came off the bench to pour in 26 points and grab 12 rebounds, both career highs. But even with Nelson with hitting 11 of 15 shots, EWU shot 38 percent for the game. Without Nelson the Eagles shot 27 percent, which coupled with a 10-of-22 effort from the foul line pretty much doomed Eastern in this early-season showdown.

“I think the effort is good,” Burns said. “We had some turnovers and missed some free throws. You do those things on your home floor and they usually come back to bite you on the road and I think that is kind of what happened tonight. I don’t think it’s a wakeup call. The guys knew this was a big game. They’re not happy with the way they performed.”

Both teams suffered through an extended scoring drought in the first half. After a big dunk by Deuce Smith off a steal and assist by Danny Pariseau pulled Eastern within 25-21, Portland State closed the first half with a 10-2 run for a 35-23 lead.

Then the Vikings got two buckets from 6-foot-11 freshman Scott Morrison, who had eight points and matched Boxley with nine rebounds, to open the second half and the Eagles never got closer than eight.

“The big thing I told the guys at halftime is they’re the defending Big Sky champions, they’re going to give us their best punch to open the second half. You have to stand in there and take it,” PSU coach Heath Schroyer said. “I thought the guys did a good job of staying focused.”

Only Nelson and 18 Portland State turnovers kept the game close. Nelson had 22 points in the second half as he put together his third career double-double. It was his second of the year and first since missing six games with a broke hand.

“I’m starting to get my timing back and I’m getting more comfortable out there on the court,” he said. “I’m just happy to get back into things.”

The Eagles are going to need Nelson to step up because right now defenses are focused on Marc Axton. Though the senior forward had 10 points, he again struggled shooting, making just 3 of 11 shots – and he is shooting 23 percent in the three conference games.

“We haven’t done a great job of getting him the looks that are of the variety that he can make 50-60 percent,” Burns said. “(Nelson) was huge tonight. He came out and he had a focus and an intensity. … I thought he was a guy that really took the fight to them a little bit.”

The Eagles try to get back on track at Idaho State on Thursday and Weber State Saturday.

Portland St. 70, E. Washington 59

Portland State (12-4, 4-0)–Walker 3-6 10-14 16, Boxley 6-8 2-4 15, Morrison 3-7 2-2 8, Funn 3-5 4-8 10, Schroeder 5-8 2-2 16, Neeley 0-0 0-0 0, Stock 0-0 0-0 0, Jarrell 2-6 0-0 4, Hollist 0-0 0-0 0, Kaladokubo 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 22-40 21-32 70.

Eastern Washington (5-11, 2-1)–Bekkering 2-4 2-2 6, Axton 3-11 2-4 10, Beitinger 2-6 0-0 4, Smith 2-10 1-2 6, Pariseau 0-5 0-2 0, Scheffler 0-0 0-0 0, Henkel 0-0 0-0 0, Nelson 11-15 4-8 26, Loe 1-6 0-0 2, Butorac 2-3 1-4 5. Totals 23-60 10-22 59.

Halftime–Portland State 35, Eastern Washington 23. 3-point goals–Portland State 5-12 (Schroeder 4-7, Boxley 1-1, Walker 0-1, Funn 0-1, Jarrell 0-2), Eastern Washington 3-14 (Axton 2-8, Smith 1-1, Beitinger 0-1, Loe 0-1, Pariseau 0-3). Fouled out–Morrison, Pariseau. Rebounds–Portland State 35 (Boxley, Morrison 9), Eastern Washington 33 (Nelson 12). Assists–Portland State 15 (Funn 8), Eastern Washington 13 (Pariseau 6). Total fouls–Portland State 22, Eastern Washington 24. A–2,393.