Time and time again this season the Southern Oregon men’s basketball team showed their resilience after halftime deficits, notching 9 comeback victories. This time though, the Raiders finally got a taste of their own medicine. In the Naismith Bracket of the NAIA National Tournament, the #4 seed Mount Mercy (Iowa) Mustangs took down the #5 Raiders with a 98-97 OT win. The Mustangs accuracy from 3-point land propelled them to victory–shooting a high 61.1% from downtown. Alex Houston and Sheawn Bedford Jr. paved the way for Mount Mercy; Houston put up 18 points on 64.2% shooting and Bedford Jr. scored 15 points, going 4-7 from 3-point range.
For the Raiders, Ben DeSaulnier was the catalyst on the offensive end. After scorching the Mustangs for 17 first-half points, DeSaulnier was the foundation of a fiery comeback late in the game. Between the 6:00 and 3:35 mark, DeSaulnier scored 9 straight points for the Raiders to cut the lead to 86-85. The guard would finish the game with 26 points. The rest of the “Big Three”-Jordan West and Joel Spear-both turned in productive efforts in their last game in a Raider uniform. West posted 23 points and 6 rebounds, and Spear nearly missed a double-double with 14 points and 8 rebounds. The two Australians are set to graduate this spring.
Statistically, the duo will be missed. Besides DeSaulnier, the two were the only Raiders to average over 10 points per game. They also ranked in the top three for field goal attempts, field goal makes, assists per game, minutes per game, steals per game, and ranked 1-2 in rebounds per game. They were the main contributors to a team that exceeded expectations, which were low after losing two 6-8’ All-Americans last season. “We lost two of the best players in school history. We had some doubt,” said Coach McDermott, “I’d say we exceeded expectations.” The Raiders finished the season 24-9, and placed 2nd in the CCC, going 16-4 in conference play. They also ended the season only losing once at home, with a 13-1 record.
When looking at the season, one statistic is particularly glaring: the minute distribution amongst the team. Spear and West averaged 33.3 and 31.6 minutes per game each respectively, and those two are now gone. DeSaulnier ranked 2nd on the team with an average of 31.7 minutes per game, while Kenny Meyer and Clay Sierra (the remainder of the starting lineup) averaged 23.9 and 22.9 minutes per game each. After that, the dropoff is significant. No other player averaged more than 16.3 minutes per game. Rotation depth is something that the Raiders lacked.
Watching the game, it was apparent that the throne of Southern Oregon basketball was being handed to DeSaulnier from the two seniors. DeSaulnier, who was the leading scoring on the season with 18 PPG, looks to be the focal point of the squad in 2016-2017. And he appears poised to take on that role:
“We lose 3 really important seniors; they have contributed so much to SOU basketball and so it won’t be easy to replace them. With that being said though, we have a lot of guys coming back that have had a lot of experience in big games and it looks like we have some good recruits as well. Guys will step up and fill roles where it is needed … Just continue to work hard, get better every practice and if we do that the rest will take care of itself as proven this year.”