ASHLAND — The 18th-ranked Southern Oregon men's basketball will look to claim its first Cascade Collegiate Conference Championship since 2005 tonight when the Raiders take on regular season champion and top-seeded Warner Pacific in Portland at 7.
Southern Oregon, the third seed in the conference tournament, took down sixth seed Concordia 100-88 at home on Wednesday to earn the Raiders' first postseason win since that 2005 championship season. The Raiders followed that with an 89-71 road upset of fourth-ranked regular season conference co-champion Eastern Oregon to advance to tonight's title game.
Saturday's win improved SOU's season record to 24-8, tying the program record for wins set by the 1941-42 and 1947-48 teams. The win also clinched one of the conference's two automatic bids to the NAIA Division II National Tournament next week in Branson, Mo.
"Our guys are very excited about playing in the championship," SOU head coach Brian McDermott said. "There are kind of two big things: One is that we've already qualified for the national tournament, so that pressure is gone. We're a little bit looser that way; the second thing is that we're playing the best basketball that we've played all year. It's a good time for us to hopefully peak here for the next 10 days."
A win over Warner Pacific would clinch the conference tournament championship, increase the Raiders' win streak to nine games and set SOU up for a high seed when the NAIA announces the 32-team bracket Wednesday evening.
The Raider offense led the conference in scoring (77.2 points per game), shooting percentage (.481), 3-point percentage (.407) and assists (17.3). Meanwhile, SOU also boasted one of the top defenses in the league, ranking first in 3-point percentage defense (.283) and second in shooting percentage defense (.394) and rebounding (38.6).
Kyle Tedder, Eric Thompson and David Sturner have been the Raiders' top scoring trio all season, with all three averaging double-figures, and point guard Jeff Bush has been on fire of late to push the offense to even greater heights.
Bush has made 72.7 percent (24 of 33) of his shots, including 12 of 15 from beyond the arc, to average 16.5 points and six assists with only five total turnovers during the past four games. His performance in the two CCC Tournament victories last week earned the junior conference player of the week honors.
Thompson surpassed 500 points for the season in Saturday's win, making him only the second player in program history to reach that milestone in at least two seasons (all-time scoring leader Shea Washington achieved the mark three times).
With 490 points, Tedder is 10 points away from becoming the 15th Raider in the 500-point club, which would mark the first time an SOU team has boasted two 500-point scorers in one season.
Southern Oregon and Warner Pacific split their two regular season meetings, with WPC squeaking out a 91-88 overtime win in Portland on Dec. 22 and SOU claiming a 97-82 victory over the Knights in Ashland last month.
Warner Pacific ended the Raiders' season last year in the CCC Tournament, knocking them off 82-78 in overtime in a first-round game in Portland.
The Knights split the regular season conference championship with Eastern Oregon after compiling a 15-3 record, 26-6 overall. They earned an automatic bid to the NAIA Tournament and the top seed in the conference tourney due to a tiebreaker advantage over the Mountaineers and, like the Raiders, have won eight consecutive games.
Warner Pacific ranks second in the conference in scoring (75.6 points per game), scoring defense (65.5), scoring margin (plus 10.1) and shooting percentage (.457). The Knights boast the league's best shooting percentage defense (.387) and rank second in steals (9.0).
McDermott believes WPC's defensive strategy will pose a different challenge than the Raiders' recent opponents.
"Warner Pac is a team that plays 40 minutes of zone, and you have to work at getting the ball inside a little bit differently," McDermott said. "They're pretty good at forcing turnovers out of it because they get you trying to do things that you shouldn't be doing."
Stephen Harris leads the team and ranks among the CCC's top 10 in scoring (15.4), rebounding (10.5), assists (3.3), steals (2.1), blocks (0.8), minutes (33.4) and shooting percentage (.518). Doug Thomas adds 13.9 points per game and Ryan Parks tallied 10.6 during the conference season.
"They've got who I think will probably be the conference player of the year in Stephen Harris," McDermott said. "He's a very, very good player, and he does everything. We've got to work hard at giving some help on him so he doesn't turn in a dominant performance."
Tonight's game will be the Raiders' third in seven days.
"It's a tough turnaround with a lot of travel, and we'll see how that goes and how that impacts us and what we've got left in the tank," McDermott said. "We're just glad that we're playing our best basketball at the right time. We're just going to go up and lay it on the line and see what happens and then come back and get ready for Nationals."