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SOU falls to rival OIT

ASHLAND — Third-ranked Oregon Tech used a 17-4 second-half run to pull away from rival Southern Oregon and pick up a crucial road win in a battle of Cascade Conference heavyweights Saturday at a jam-packed Bob Riehm Arena.

Playing in front of a sold-out crowd of nearly 1,400, the Raiders and Owls battled to a virtual draw through the first 25 minutes before the Owls dominated the next eight minutes to score a 69-56 victory.

Southern Oregon freshman center Eric Thompson scored 24 points and added 10 rebounds to lead both teams in each category, and Jordan Highland and Kyle Tedder each added 11 points for the Raiders (12-6, 5-2 Cascade), who suffered their first league loss at home. Terriel Thompson added nine boards.

Bobby Hunter led Oregon Tech (17-2, 6-1) with 19 points, while Bryant Sentman finished with 16 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Scotty Riddle finished with 12 points.

The Raiders were picked seventh in the league's preseason coaches' poll but entered Saturday's game in a four-way tie for first place in the standings. They played like they belonged most of the way against the Owls, but couldn't answer Oregon Tech's second-half surge.

"We didn't execute very well," SOU head coach Brian McDermott said, "and I think the two biggest differences were that we missed a bunch of free throws in the first half and we didn't take care of the defensive boards. Their offensive rebounds were much more productive than ours. We didn't shoot the ball great, but you can survive that if you do some of the other things."

Southern Oregon led by as many as four points early in the contest before a trey by Riddle tied it up at 14 midway through the first half. The Owls used a 14-3 run to turn a 17-17 tie into a 31-20 advantage a few minutes before halftime, and the visitors took an eight-point lead into the break.

Jeff Bush scored the first points of the second half, and after a David Clarke 3-pointer pushed the Owls' lead back to nine points SOU scored seven straight points capped by a Highland 3 to pull within 38-36. Kyle Gomez responded with a 3-pointer for Oregon Tech, and the Owls pushed their lead back to nine when Riddle hit again from beyond the arc with 11:34 remaining.

Oregon Tech took its biggest lead of the game on a Hunter jumper with 7:32 to play, giving the Owls a 55-40 advantage.

"We got a lot of shots, but we didn't finish very well inside," McDermott said. "We had some uncharacteristic things with execution — some sets that we just did not run correctly."

Ultimately, McDermott said, it was the little things that hurt the Raiders.

"We would have a good defensive possession then didn't finish them," he said. "And we had three different times when they had offensive rebounds on free throw misses, and that's inexcusable. We just weren't really good, detail-wise."

After Oregon Tech's big second-half rally the Raiders scored the next six points, but SOU did not get closer than eight points the rest of the way.

Both teams struggled from the field, shooting an identical 36.4 percent (20-of-55) in the game. Oregon Tech made two more 3-pointers, but the biggest difference was at the free throw line. The Owls made 22 of 27 attempts at the charity stripe (81.5 percent), while SOU hit 11 of 21 attempts (52.4 percent).

"Like I told the guys before the game," McDermott said, "this game wasn't about winning or losing, the issue was getting better in games like this and playing better, and that was a little disappointing because many of the same things that have been bothering us bothered us again."

Still, McDermott came away from the game convinced that the Raiders will not be overmatched the next time they play the Owls, or any of the other top-tier teams in the Cascade Conference.

"There's no question in my mind," he said, "that we can play with all of them."

Southern Oregon's Jeff Bush, left, drives the ball to the basket during Saturday's game against Oregon Tech. - Photo by Richard Balzer