NCAAB: Formidable Portland takes on No. 12 Michigan State
The Portland Pilots have proven in the Phil Knight Invitational tournament, being held in their home city, that they’re not overmatched against a big-name program.
The Pilots gave No. 1 North Carolina a scare on Thanksgiving before falling 89-81. On Friday, they surprised Big East powerhouse Villanova, 83-71.
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They’ll get another chance to bring down an NCAA Tournament mainstay when they face No. 12 Michigan State on Sunday.
Portland may be opening some eyes around the college basketball world but its performances in the tournament hasn’t shocked second-year head coach Shantay Legans.
“There’s a lot of smart guys in that locker room who understand the scouting report on the opponent and stick to it,” Legans said. “I was expecting guys to play well (Friday).”
A balanced approach allowed the Pilots (5-3) to knock off the Wildcats.
Moses Wood had 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Tyler Robertson supplied 15 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, and Kristian Sjolund contributed 14 points and six rebounds.
They shot 56.3 percent and had 19 assists on 27 baskets.
“Villanova’s a storied program,” said guard Jack Perry, who added nine points, five rebounds and four assists. “We knew they wouldn’t go away, but we managed to hang on. Yeah, it feels real good.”
Portland made seven 3-pointers in the first half to gain an eight-point halftime advantage and led by as much as 18 in the second half.
Legans left Eastern Washington after taking that program to the NCAA Tournament. The Pilots finished 19-15 last season in Legans’ first year as their head coach.
Robertson and Perry followed him to Portland.
“I love these two guys, I’ve been with them a long time and (Mike Meadows) also,” Legans said. “So I knew we had a great base right from the start. When we were looking at bringing in guys, we wanted to bring in the right guys and guys that would believe we can win right away.”
The Pilots have caught the attention of longtime Spartans coach Tom Izzo.
“They run their stuff so well and they should have beat (North) Carolina and then beat a team that we barely beat; beat ‘em bad and we’re dragging a little bit right now,” he said in a radio interview.
Michigan State (4-2) bounced back from a loss to Alabama on Thursday by squeaking past Oregon 74-70 on Friday.
Tyson Walker and Joey Hauser led them with 18 points apiece. Walker also had eight assists while Hauser grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
Michigan State made six free throws in the final 37 seconds to close it out.
“We did some really great things and then we did some bonehead things,” Izzo said. “But what I did feel a little good about at the end, Tyson was a go-to guy, Joey made some big plays, and even though disappointed in A.J. (Hoggard), disappointed in Mady (Sissoko) a little bit, those guys went to the line and made six straight free throws. And that’s incredibly important.”
The Spartans are trying to get by without two key components. Starting forward Malik Hall is sidelined by a foot injury and sixth man Jaden Akins is also nursing a foot ailment.
“It’s been harder than I thought with those two guys out, because you kind of learned that those two guys helped stir the drink, especially Malik,” Izzo said.
–Field Level Media
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