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Raiders upset Knights, in title contest

PORTLAND — Being the youngest of the Cascade Conference elite, the Southern Oregon men’s basketball team was banking on growing up by the time it arrived at this point of the season.

Saturday night was a pretty good time to break out the measuring stick.

Nearly three months removed from an embarrassing 80-42 loss at Warner Pacific — in which the Raiders scored fewer points than they had in 31 years — 23rd-ranked SOU pulled off an 81-66 upset on WPC’s Bart Valentine Court in the semifinal round of the CCC Championships.

The fourth-seeded Raiders (24-8 overall) will appear in the championship game for the second time in three years Tuesday at top-seeded and fifth-ranked College of Idaho, which was a 73-58 winner Saturday in its semifinal against No. 8 seed Eastern Oregon. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Mountain Time.

Four Raiders scored in double figures, led by Eric Thompson’s 19 points and 11 rebounds on a 7-for-11 performance. Ben DeSaulnier and Jordan West (seven rebounds) scored 15 apiece, and Tim Weber went 4-for-5 with 14 points, seven assists and four rebounds.

As a team, the Raiders shot 57 percent (30-for-53) from the field, finally dissecting a WPC zone defense that was statistically the best in the league and recently had caused nothing but problems for SOU. The Raiders lost five straight on WPC’s home floor, and in their previous two visits shot a combined 29 percent.

 “Nearly flawless execution of a pretty good game plan,” SOU coach Brian McDermott said. “And we had great composure from start to finish.”

The Knights (25-7), who got in on a three-way share of the CCC regular-season title, still figure to earn an at-large bid to the 32-team NAIA Championships. Even if they lose on Tuesday, the Raiders strengthened their case for an at-large, too, with their fifth win over a ranked opponent this season.

SOU took control in the first half with a 14-4 run — sparked by Weber’s banked-in triple at the end of the shot clock and sweetened by a Justin Martin 3 – to make it 33-24 with 16 minutes in. Thompson then scored eight straight points to make it 41-30 by halftime.

After the break, Joel Spear got started with a 3-pointer on the Raiders’ first possession for their largest lead. They held off several runs the rest of the way.

WPC’s Ryan Parks cut into a 60-46 score with consecutive 3s that fueled an 8-0 surge, but SOU answered with a Thompson jumper and two straight DeSaulnier baskets. Their lead wasn’t less than 13 the rest of the way.

Spear finished with eight points, four assists, three steals and three rebounds, while Martin added six points off the bench.

The Raiders are 4-1 in their last five semifinal contests, but haven’t won a tournament championship since 2005.