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Raider men fall just short at Arizona Christian

PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Southern Oregon men's basketball team had fourth-ranked Arizona Christian (NAIA Div. I) on the ropes Thursday night, but the Firestorm made nine of their last 10 free-throw attempts to break a late tie and seal an 81-76 win at the Firestorm Classic.

The Raiders (2-1 overall) trailed 64-53 late in the second half before reeling off a quick 13-2 run — capped by Joel Spear and Ben DeSaulnier 3-pointers and finally Spear's dish to Clay Sierra for a layup that knotted the score with 3:50 left for the first time since the opening moments at 66-all.

The Firestorm (2-0) answered with four straight free throws and another bucket to go up six. Two more DeSaulnier 3s cut it to 76-74, but Mike Navar's loose-ball layup on the other end put ACU in the driver's seat for good with 47 seconds remaining.

DeSaulnier — a victim of early foul trouble and SOU's five first-half charging violatoins — scored 14 of his 16 in the second half, going 4-for-5 from downtown. Spear had 17 points and four assists with 5-of-8 marksmanship from outside, and Kenny Meyer added all 10 of his points in the second half to go with four assists and three boards. Clay Sierra was also impressive off the bench again with 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds.

ACU shot 41 percent compared to SOU's 48 (including a 12-for-23 performance form downtown), but forced the Raiders into 11 first-half turnovers (16 for the game) to take a 35-29 lead into the break.

Chris Sterling had 22 points and four 3-pointers and was joined in double figures by Brandon Newman (18), Bobby Gray (16) and Navar (10).

ACU was 18-for-22 from the free-throw line, while SOU was just 8-of-18.

The Raiders wrap up their stint at the Firestorm Classic at 4 p.m. Pacific Time Friday against Embry-Riddle (Ariz.).

Cross Country

Southern Oregon University's cross country teams know as well as anyone that regular-season rankings have little meaning when it comes to running in the postseason.

The top-ranked Raider men aren't taking an eighth straight Cascade Conference tile for granted, especially since they'll be on the same course with ninth-ranked College of Idaho for the first time this season Saturday. The men's 8,000-meter CCC Championship race begins at 11 a.m. on a challenging course that winds up, around and through the campus of Corban University.

The women's 5K will take place after at around noon, and the field is again loaded. SOU, ranked 18th, will contend with top-ranked and defending CCC champ Northwest Christian, fifth-ranked College of Idaho and 21st-ranked Oregon Tech.

Even if the Raider men were to falter, they're still in good enough standing to, at worst, receive a team at-large berth to the NAIA Championships, and if the women perform up to expectations then SOU should send both teams to the national meet for the second straight year.

"Our men still have some depth, but not quite like we've had in the past, so C of I and Northwest Christian can cause some problems for us," SOU head coach Grier Gatlin said. "And the women have a loaded field, but if we can hold our position we should be OK."

FORMAT: The top-12 placers in each race are considered All-Cascade Conference, and the top-five finishers on each team contribute to their team's score.

The winning team gets to bring seven runners (including an alternate) to the NAIA Championships on Nov. 21 in Charlotte, N.C.; other teams will have to rely on an at-large bid. The top-four placers on teams that don't advance to the NAIA Championships will receive individual berths, as long as those individuals finish in the top-15 overall. (Until last year it was five, but the cut was made to allow for more at-large teams to advance.)