The Southern Oregon men's basketball team had every reason to be confident heading into Friday night's second-round NAIA Division II national tournament game against College of the Ozarks.
The Raiders had won nine of their last 10 games, were two days removed from an impressive 17-point first-round win over 14th-ranked Madonna and knew they would have a size advantage against the host Bobcats.
But then the game began and Southern Oregon learned just how quickly optimism can turn into frustration, and frustration into disaster.
College of the Ozarks bottled up Southern Oregon's potent offense and got standout performances out of its two stars, Nathane Simniok and Mike Wiebe, to blitz the 18th-ranked Raiders 76-59 in front of 3,005 mostly pro-Ozarks fans at Keeter Gym in Point Lookout, Mo.
"We did some good things defensively," SOU head coach Brian McDermott said, "but we weren't very good offensively. We just weren't tough enough or disciplined enough."
The win sends the unranked Bobcats (23-12) soaring into the quarterfinals, where they will face 11th-ranked Indiana Southeast this afternoon for a spot in the final four.
Southern Oregon (25-9) bows out after returning to nationals for the first time since 2006 and setting a program record for wins.
Laboring just to stay within striking distance for most of the second half, the Raiders finally made their move late, cutting a 13-point deficit to six on Kyle Tedder's 3-pointer with 5:32 to go in the game. It was one of the few highlights for Tedder, who hit 3 of 12 shots, including 2 of 9 from deep, two days after scoring 20 against Madonna.
The Bobcats didn't panic. Following a timeout Ethan Murray nailed a 3-pointer with a hand in his face. SOU's Jeff Bush missed a 3 at the other end and Wiebe's 15-footer pushed the lead back to double digits.
Suddenly in desperation mode, SOU forward Eric Thompson clanked a 3 on SOU's next possession and Wiebe scored again to give the hosts a 67-54 lead. Thompson missed the front end of a one-and-one and was called for an offensive foul on the Raiders' next two possessions, and the Bobcats countered with a Pete Leonard layin and two free throws by Wiebe to complete the 11-0 run that made it 71-54 with 2:39 left.
"We played well defensively for a long period of time," McDermott said. "Then in the end, they just made some tough shots."
Simniok had 24 points on 10 of 16 shooting and added eight rebounds, while Wiebe scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half while also contributing seven boards and three assists.
Simniok scored seven of his 10 field goals in the paint, where Ozarks outscored Southern Oregon, 32-18.
David Sturner hit 8 of 11 shots, including 3 of 3 treys, and led Southern Oregon with 21 points and 13 rebounds, and Thompson scored 20. The rest of the team combined for just 18 points, as SOU shot just 38 percent (23-for-60), including 11-for-28 from long range.
Sturner's three-point play capped an 8-0 run that gave the Raiders an 18-16 lead midway through the first half.
The game was back-and-forth over the next five minutes, then Simniok went off, scoring nine points in an 11-3 Bobcat spurt that gave Ozarks a 32-23 lead with 2:10 to go in the half.
"(Simniok) made some 3s that we didn't expect and we didn't take away his right hand very well," McDermott said. "We weren't as physical as we should have been."
Sturner canned back-to-back 3-pointers to get the Raiders within three, but Ozarks reclaimed the momentum with one final surge. First, Skyler Frazier scored off a Sturner turnover. Then, following another Raider miscue, Wiebe raced down the floor and launched a 25-footer than rimmed in as time expired. It was Weibe's first basket of the game.
Only two seniors — backup point guard Taylor Roos and backup forward Terriel Thomas — will graduate off SOU's roster, so the Raiders appear to be well equipped to make another run to nationals next season.
"Our guys got to win a game at the national tournament, and they got to play in the most hostile environment that you can in the tournament," McDermott said, "and that can do nothing but help us going forward."