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No. 14 Mustangs knock out SOU in OT

POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. — The hallmarks of this year's Southern Oregon men's basketball team — deft shooting, wild finishes and clutch play-making — were all on display in the first round of the NAIA Division II National Tournament. But the Raiders' demons — struggles on the defensive end, on the boards and at the free-throw line — prevailed Wednesday at Keeter Gymnasium.

The 14th-ranked Mount Mercy Mustangs had the final say in a back-and-forth shootout that featured 10 lead changes, eliminating No. 17 SOU 98-97 in overtime. Alex Houston's put-back bucket with nine seconds left proved to be the game-winner when Ben DeSaulnier's contested step-back shook the rim but rattled off at the horn.

The Raiders had won 13 straight games that were within five points in the last five minutes this season and seven straight in overtime dating back to last year. They finished up with a record of 24-9.

SOU seniors Joel Spear and Jordan West ended their careers with 97 victories, the most of any players in program history. West went out with 23 points, including some clutch scoring that kept the Raiders alive through regulation, and Spear had 14 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Gary Melvin, SOU's only other senior, went 3-for-6 off the bench.

DeSaulnier, a sophomore guard, led SOU with 26 points. He scored 17 of those in the first half, when the Raiders shot a blistering 63 percent from the field and got out to a 58-47 lead at the break.

The Mustangs (26-7) countered in the second half with pressure defense: They wore down the Raiders with a full-court look that they sustained by playing 10 different players 13 minutes or more, and SOU was held to 13 points in the first 11 minutes of the second half.

The Mustangs also stayed in it from 3-point range, where they had shot just 27 percent (67-of-245) over their 12 previous games. They went 11-of-18 from downtown, and back-to-back triples from CJ Parker and Mychael Brawner-Henley put them up 81-75 with 6:19 left.

SOU was down 84-77 with 5:25 to play when DeSaulnier drilled a 3-pointer — scoring the first of his nine straight points to force one of the game's 11 ties, 86-all, at the 2:13 mark.

The aforementioned Houston — who scored 14 of his team-high 18 after halftime — put the Mustangs back up with a bucket in the paint, but West's 3-pointer from the top of the key gave the Raiders an 89-88 edge with 1:03 left. Following a defensive stop, the Raiders had a chance to widen the gap when DeSaulnier stepped to the free-throw line with 37 seconds on the clock, but he missed both.

MMU took advantage, going up 90-89 with 20 seconds to go on Tre Wagner's bucket inside. DeSaulnier then missed a potential go-ahead jumper with two seconds left, but West was fouled going for the rebound and made the second of two free throws to send the game to an extra session.

West put the Raiders up twice with OT baskets — off the cut and a dime from Spear dime to make it 95-94 with 1:52 left, and on a spin inside to make it 97-96 with 44 seconds left — but Houston answered both times. His final go-ahead put-back was MMU's third shot of the possession.

The Mustangs — who shot 46 percent (39-of-85) compared to SOU's 51 percent (36-of-71) for the game — earned extra possessions but pulling down 19 offensive rebounds to SOU's seven.

Kenny Meyer helped the Raiders with 10 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Clay Sierra was once again a steady hand with 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting and five rebounds. Justin Martin contributed a pair of 3-pointers off the bench.

Martin's second 3-pointer put the Raiders up 65-57 left, and it was 69-59 when the Mustangs started their game-changing 12-2 run.