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SOU begins conference play against No. 5 Eastern

ASHLAND — Southern Oregon University's men's basketball seeks to reverse its fortunes this weekend with the start of Cascade Conference play.

The Raiders are 2-5 entering contests at McNeal Pavilion tonight against fifth-ranked Eastern Oregon and Saturday against College of Idaho. Both games begin at 7:30 p.m.

SOU coach Brian McDermott hopes a tough preseason schedule will prepare it for what should be a difficult CC slate.

The Raiders played NCAA Division I Oregon and NCAA Division II Humboldt State. It played two NAIA Division I teams and top-ranked NAIA Division II rival Oregon Tech.

In this week's NAIA top-25 poll, Cascade teams Oregon Tech (No. 1), Eastern Oregon (No. 5), Warner Pacific (No. 16) and Evergreen (No. 20) were ranked.

"We've taken some big strides and there has been a big improvement since Day 1, and playing a number of very good teams has something to do with that," McDermott said. "We still need to experience winning. Until you do that, you don't know what it takes to get the job done."

The 2008-09 version of Raider basketball is pushing the ball up the court and scoring 77 points per game and shooting .466 as a team.

Defensively, the Raiders lead the Cascade Conference with 11 steals per outing.

Senior guard Eli Thornton ranks 13th in the conference in scoring at 14.1 points per game. Thornton is sixth in field goal percentage at .631, seventh in steals at 2.14 per game and eighth in assists at 3.71 per game.

Eastern Oregon is off to a 6-1 start. The Mountaineers are averaging 91 points per game and outscores foes by 23 points per game.

Eastern is shooting .545, and Kris Groce leads six players in double-digit scoring at 16.4 points per game.

The College of Idaho is 3-5 on the season but has won two straight games. Craig McGee leads the Yotes in scoring at 16.5 points per game.