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Raiders take thriller in double overtime

ASHLAND — After five gut-wrenching losses, Wednesday’s two overtimes and an unusual amount of prying, the monkey is finally off the Southern Oregon men’s basketball team’s collective back.

The 23rd-ranked Raiders awoke from the nightmare that has been its recent history with Northwest Christian, emerging from two extra sessions at Riehm Arena as 98-92 winners in the quarterfinal round of the Cascade Conference Championship.

NCU's Javonte Byrd hit a 3-pointer while falling into the stands as time expired in regulation to force the first overtime after the Beacons had trailed 65-56 with 1:28 remaining. SOU rallied from seven points down as Kenny Meyer made two free throws with four seconds on the clock to force the second. And the Raiders outscored NCU 15-9 in the final frame to close it out, moving on to Saturday’s semifinals at third-seeded and 15th-ranked Warner Pacific.

The tantalizing breakthrough occurred when the only other option was a career-ending loss for SOU senior all-stars Tim Weber and Eric Thompson. As it happened, the fourth-seeded Raiders improved to 23-8 overall and strengthened their case for an at-large bid to the NAIA Championships while keeping hopes alive for an automatic.

The Beacons, who had the No. 5 seed, saw their record go to 17-11 and their dream of advancing to the national tournament for the second straight year fizzle.

Five players scored in double figures on each team. For the Raiders, Ben DeSaulnier and Jordan West logged 20 points apiece, Eric Thompson had 19 points and 11 boards, Tim Weber had 17 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and Meyer scored 14.

SOU was 38-for-49 from the free-throw line — its most makes and attempts in at least 20 years — and connected on 18 of 22 attempts in overtime. DeSaulnier and Meyer, two freshmen guards, combined to shoot 16-for-21 at the stripe.

Byrd, a perennial Raider-killer, tallied 27 points with five 3-pointers for the Beacons. NCU made six of eight 3-point attempts in the final 3:28 of regulation to force the tie, and Byrd had three of them.

“It’s really hard to come back when they hit big shot after big shot like they did to tie it, then to get down seven right away in overtime,” Raiders coach Brian McDermott said. “I think that shows we may have a little more toughness than what it may appear sometimes. That’s a big deal.”

SOU is 5-0 in overtime this season, setting school record for OT wins.

Trailing 72-68 with 13 ticks left after a pair of Thompson free throws, Devyn Iglehart found Travis Hackman for a triple. Kenny Meyer made one free throw on the other end, and Byrd attempt at a game-tying layup was off the mark. NCU coach Luke Jackson was hit with a technical for contending that Byrd was fouled — DeSaulnier’s hit one of two freebies as a result, making it 74-71 — but NCU got the ball back with one second left as Tim Weber was called for a travel after rebounding Byrd’s miss.

Byrd was freed up on the right wing on the ensuing out-of-bounds play and drilled a rainbow for the tie.

Byrd’s jumper was the first basket of the first OT, and his 3 with 2:53 on the clock made it 81-74.

SOU got back in with five free-throw attempts, a Weber basket and four straight defensive stops, cutting NCU’s lead to 83-81. A loose ball in the final 10 seconds ended up in Meyer’s hands, Byrd ran into him for the foul, and Meyer made both free throws.

“Both freshmen made a lot of big ones,” McDermott said. “That’s asking an awful lot from them with the season hinging on it.”

After trading baskets for the first half of the second overtime, four straight made free throws by Weber and West put SOU up for good, 92-89 with 1:54 left. The Beacons would have two possessions with the chance to tie but wouldn’t make another field goal.

Iglehart ended up with 15 points, nine assists and four rebounds. Austin Kuemper and Travis Pacos scored 11 apiece, and Omar Richards and Jay Mayernik (12 rebounds) each had 10.

NCU’s five straight wins over SOU dating back to last season included last year’s knockout of the Raiders in the quarterfinals of the CCC tournament and a buzzer-beating win this season in Eugene.

SOU senior Eric Thompson goes up up for a jumper against Northwest Christian on Wednesday in Ashland. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.