Last night, in its first home contest since the season opener against Seattle, the Stanford men’s basketball team (4-3) claimed a hard-fought victory against Portland State (3-3) by a score of 79-67. A close contest characterized by turnovers and personal fouls, Stanford finally pulled away with eight minutes remaining in the second half, thanks to strong performances from the entire team.
During the Battle 4 Atlantis and Stanford’s previous loss to the UNC Tar Heels, head coach Jerod Haase stuck with tight lineups, playing his starters 30 or more minutes per game and sticking to just a few bench relievers. Tonight, the team had 11 players enter the game within the first 10 minutes.
This was partially due to an enormous amount of fouls committed by both teams. Just 11 minutes into the first half, both sides had accumulated nine fouls each. Stanford’s sophomore star players, forward KZ Okpala and guard Daejon Davis, saw themselves fall into foul trouble early on in the match, and were pulled for much of the first half (and chunks of the second).
But the bench players provided a much needed spark off the bench on several occasions, including when the Cardinal went on a 7-0 scoring run in the middle of the first period. This was fueled by a putback layup by freshman center Lukas Kisunas, a transition three by starting freshman two-guard Cormac Ryan and a monster dunk by freshman forward Jaiden Delaire.
Delaire and Kisunas played quality bench minutes for the Cardinal, in addition to sophomore guard Isaac White, senior center Josh Sharma and redshirt freshman forward Kodye “KP” Pugh. The Cardinal would not have been able to pull away from the Vikings were it not for the full-scale team effort that Coach Haase put together.
Only two players for Stanford, sophomore forward Oscar Da Silva and freshman guard Bryce Wills, were in double figures on the night (12 and 10 respectively), but eight total players scored seven or more points.
Also impressive off the bench was junior guard Marcus Sheffield, who had the hot hand late in the first half, draining a mid-range jumper on a possession before sinking a three on the next to put the Cardinal up 23-21. Sheffield finished the night efficiently, going 3-4 with 7 total points and one rebound.
Despite its quality play off the bench, Stanford struggled for much of the first half for two main reasons: turnovers and offensive rebounding.
The Vikings played the Cardinal tough, staying active and physical in all aspects of the game. Portland State employed a full court press for much of the evening, attempting to double team and trap whichever Cardinal player (usually Ryan, Davis or Wills) was bringing the ball up the court. This resulted in some bad passes and turnovers, which led to easy Viking baskets. Stanford had 11 turnovers in the first half.
“I think obviously we couldn’t anticipate foul trouble, but we prepared for the press and obviously we didn’t execute as well as we liked, I think in the first half we had 11 turnovers. I think in the second half we picked it up and we played better,” said Da Silva.
Stanford was also getting mauled on the offensive glass. The Vikings out-offensive rebounded Stanford 24-5 throughout the game and outscored them 21-3 in second-chance points.
“There’s no way around it, our coaches warned us that that was going to be one of the main keys to the game, to not get out-rebounded on the offensive boards,” Da Silva said after the game. “I think in the first half we did a really bad job at executing that.”
Despite going 1-14 from three point range during the first half (only hitting their first three-pointer with two minutes remaining), the Vikings stayed present in the game, and led at halftime by a score of 35-34. Portland State guard Michael Nuga was on fire in the first half, scoring 17 of the Vikings’ 35 points, on 7-13 shooting. Nuga cooled off after halftime, only contributing one more basket on five shots.
The primary issue for Portland State, which became exceedingly clear after the halftime break, was that they were wildly inefficient. The Vikings took 30 more shots than the Cardinal did (82 to Stanford’s 52) and made two fewer shots (26 to Stanford’s 28). Eventually, once Stanford became confident in passing out of the full-court press and cut down on turnovers, the Cardinal were able to pull away.
Da Silva noted, “I think we were playing together better, executing the game plan better, which I think we did a lot better job of that in the second half.”
With Davis and Okpala back in the game to start the second half, the crowd was reminded why they are the focal point of the team’s offense. Davis began pushing the court on fast breaks, finishing a layup with an acrobatic flourish. Okpala had a few beautiful drives of his own, showcasing his post moves with a great jump stop and fancy footwork as the Cardinal went on an 8-2 run to open the half.
Davis finished the game with a less-than-admirable stat line, going 1-2 for four points, with one assist and one rebounds. However, he was +7 while on the court. Okpala was 3-4 with eight points, four assists and five rebounds, and was +8 while on the court. Both players played fewer than 20 minutes.
The second half showcased Wills in a prominent role, getting to the basket effectively and drawing fouls in the process. He shot 3-5 from the field and 4-7 from the stripe, for a total of 10 points. He also almost had the play of the night when he almost dunked over the entire Portland State team, jumping nearly from the free throw line. The ball bounced off the back of the rim, and Wills was fouled on the play.
The play of the night instead belonged to Sharma, who caught a pass from Da Silva in the low post and put his defender on a poster, slamming the ball down right over his head, and giving him an Allen Iverson step-over after the play. Sharma finished 3-5 with nine points and eight rebounds.
Da Silva was the team leader in points on the night, shooting 6-9 for 12 points, adding four rebounds and a team-leading four assists.
When asked about what the post-game comments were like within the team, Da Silva said, “It was a simple message, I think we were excited about the win, but we have a lot of work to do if we want to get to where we want to be this season.”
The Cardinal will take the court once again this Saturday, when they take on the No. 2 ranked Kansas Jayhawks at 2:30 p.m PST.
Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu