PORTLAND — A loss in the Cascade Conference championship game did little to dampen the expectations the Southern Oregon men's basketball team has for its trip to the national tournament next week. In fact, it advanced the Raiders.
Playing its second lengthy road trip in four days, SOU battled through a turnover-plagued game and had a chance to win in the final minute before falling to the host Warner Pacific Knights, 67-63, on Tuesday.
Southern Oregon got 21 points and eight rebounds from sophomore Eric Thompson and nine points each from sophomore Tim Weber and senior Taylor Roos just three nights after a dominating 89-71 victory over fourth-ranked Eastern Oregon in La Grande.
Despite the loss, the Raiders, who had an eight-game winning streak snapped, will head for the 32-team NAIA Division II Tournament in Branson, Mo., based on their win over Eastern Saturday and 18th-ranked Warner Pacific's role as league champion. Southern Oregon earned the conference's other automatic bid by reaching the title game against a team that had already qualified.
"We knew we were in the tournament, but it was a pride thing for us," said Weber. "We were definitely not at our best, but still had a chance to win. That says a lot about our team."
Warner Pacific, playing its fifth straight home game, got 14 points from Doug Thomas and nine points and 13 rebounds from Stephen Harris in the win. The Knights (27-4) are headed for the tournament for the eighth straight year.
Southern Oregon coach Brian McDermott said the nature of the game made him feel much more confident in his team heading for the national tournament, which begins March 6.
"I was really proud of our guys with this game," McDermott said. "We were in a bus a lot the last four days, and you could tell we were more worn out than they were. But we competed right to the end and had a chance to win.
"We know we're pretty good, and we haven't known that all year. We know that from the last two games."
The Raiders trailed by as many as 11 in the first half, but took a 53-51 lead on a basket by Thompson. SOU led again, 55-53, on another basket by Thompson when the Knights reeled off seven straight points to capture a 60-55 advantage.
With Kyle Tedder making a pair of key 3-point shots, Southern Oregon tied the game at 63, but Harris scored on an inside basket to break the tie with 1:30 remaining.
After a series of possessions resulted in no scoring, the Raiders had a pair of 3-point shots to win by Tedder and another shot by junior David Sturner in a wild final 10 seconds that led to a rugby-style scrum, which was fitting as the Knights had two starters who hail from Australia.
Warner Pacific got a free throw from the resulting technical foul with 2.4 seconds remaining and another with 1.5 seconds left for the final score.
The Raiders finished by hitting 22 of 55 shots from the field and 12 of 16 at the line. They were just 7 of 24 from 3-point range, but scrapped out a 41-34 rebounding edge.
"Our team chemistry is where we want it to be," said Sturner, who had six points and nine rebounds. "We played hard and we can't hang our heads because we've got games next week that we have to go and win."