The Southern Oregon men’s basketball team is back atop the Cascade Conference standings for the first time in a month. With Saturday’s 92-86 victory over Eastern Oregon and Sunday’s 76-72 over College of Idaho, the Raiders move into a first-place tie with Northwest Christian University with an SOU-NCU showdown on the radar for next Friday in Eugene. With only one other game remaining for both teams, this game could very well serve as the CCC championship game, with the winner receiving an automatic berth to the NAIA tournament in Point Lookout, Missouri next month.
This weekend saw the Raiders do what they’ve done all season – finish close games. Of SOU’s 23 victories, twelve of them have been decided by less than ten points. The first half of the Eastern game was back and forth, as senior Gary Melvin paced the team with 11 points to give the Raiders a 38-35 halftime lead.
The second half saw the usual suspects doing work, with Jordan West and Ben DeSaulnier scoring 28 of their combined 40. The real difference though was sophomore guard Kenny Meyer. With his team clinging to a 44-41 lead, Meyer scored the Raiders next 13 points. After an Eastern miss, DeSaulnier’s jumper gave SOU their largest lead of 59-51 with 11 minutes remaining.
Eastern fought back, but another 6-0 run by SOU late put the game out of reach. Clay Sierra had 13 points, while Joel Spear recorded 12 assists and 7 boards.
Coach Brian McDermott offered up two reasons for his team’s ability to perform in crunch time. “Our guys believe in our stuff and we run it and we execute well at the end and continue to get good shots.”
Trell Washington’s 24 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds guided EOU, who impressively only had 5 turnovers for the game.
Prior to Sunday’s College of Idaho matchup, seniors Jordan West, Joel Spear, and Gary Melvin were celebrated at center court for Senior Night, surrounded by family and friends. Spear, for one, was pleased, “It means a lot. It’s awesome having everyone here… It’s just huge, to celebrate four years of hard work and dedication to the game and to the teammates and coaching staff.”
The Raiders found themselves in a familiar place Sunday, trailing at the half, but as they’ve done all season, they prevailed. C of I’s Aitor Zubizarreta scorched SOU in the first half for 15 points, while Spear had 9 and DeSaulnier had 8 as the Raiders trailed 45-41.
To get the victory, the men followed the formula for their late-game heroics they’ve been using all season: shutting teams down in the second half. In the first half, C of I shot 16-31 overall and 8-14 from three, but in the second half, the Raiders held them to a meager 11-37 overall and 5-22 from three. Of SOU’s 15 conference victories, 10 have now come after a halftime deficit.
On his night, Senior Joel Spear would not be denied. In his last regular season game at home, Spear registered 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists. Following the game, coach McDermott had high praise for his point guard. “We think he is the [conference] Player of the Year… Because he just runs and controls us; we’d be dead without him.”
Fellow senior Jordan West chipped in 10 points and 6 rebounds, while Ben DeSaulnier had 17 points of his own. The Raiders also held Zubizarreta to just three second half points.
With the win, SOU finishes undefeated at home for the first time since 1942. They also move to 23-5 overall and 16-2 in conference, with the NCU matchup looming ahead on the schedule. Spear says the team has only one goal for next weekend. “To win, that’s it. We’re going to focus in this week, do what we can, go all out, and then come Friday, we’re going to win the game.”
Follow Sports Editor Michael Brock on Twitter @mbrock03 or email email@example.com.