Tonight's game featuring 18th-ranked Southern Oregon and 19th-ranked Northwest University at Bob Riehm Arena has been made the NAIA Men's Basketball Game of the Week, the national office announced Wednesday.
With five regular season games remaining, the significance matches the label, too.
The Raiders (19-6 overall, 8-5 Cascade Conference) and Eagles (17-6, 8-4) find themselves in a dogfight for second place — and, with that, homecourt advantage at least through the semifinals of the conference tournament — with Northwest Christian (8-5) and Concordia (7-5). College of Idaho (11-2) owns a 2 1/2;-game lead in first.
Matchup: The second-place Eagles (8-4 CCC) have a half-game lead over the third-place Raiders (8-5 CCC) in the league standings.
When/Where: 7:30 p.m. tonight at Bob Riehm Arena.
Online: Links to live video and stats are available at souraiders.com.
That makes this weekend as big as any for SOU, which will be going for a season split with Northwest before attempting to sweep Evergreen State (3-16, 2-10) on Saturday. Both games are scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m., and can be followed with live stats or a pay-per-view stream at the SOU Athletics Portal. Today will be Breast Cancer Awareness Night, with a portion of the gate being donated to the Asante Ashland Community Hospital Foundation's Women's Imaging and Mammogram Fund, and five seniors will be honored before the game against the Geoducks.
Southern Oregon still leads the league in shooting percentage (50.2), assists per game (17.9) and rebounding margin (plus-5.8), and is a shade off the top spot in terms of opponents' shooting percentage (43.2). Holding the Raiders back is the stuff hidden beyond the box scores.
They also lack in late-game breaks. Of their last four losses, one was by four points, two were in overtime, and the other was an 86-84 loss at Northwest finished by Ryan McIntosh's rebound-putback of an airball at the buzzer.
"We need to pay attention to detail quite a bit better in a lot of phases of the game," Raiders head coach Brian McDermott said. "We just have little gaps where we don't play like we should and we're allowing teams to be in a position to get back in games with some big shots, and there've been quite a few big shots against us."
Big shots have been necessary lately between SOU and Northwest, whose last four games have been decided in the final minute. The Eagles have won five of the last six.
Michael Green, a 6-foot-5 senior, leads an active offensive frontcourt at 16.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. In Northwest's last two games he is 19 of 25 from the field, and in his last five games against SOU he is averaging 17.8 points on 67-percent shooting and 8.4 rebounds.
Forwards Michael Russo (13.8 points, 7.3 rebounds) and Nemanja Grujicic (10.4 points) help carry the offensive load with McIntosh (12.7), a senior guard.
"They've got a pretty veteran group and certainly one of the top post players in the league in Michael Greene," McDermott said.
"Just the way he plays is infectious; he's one of my favorites in the league. Otherwise, they do a lot of pick-and-roll stuff to set up their penetration and they've developed a nice bench with some guys who can really shoot it."
The Raiders needed Eric Thompson's 38 points and clutch 3-pointers from David Sturner and Tim Weber to come back for an 80-76 win at Evergreen on Jan. 10, their fifth straight over the Geoducks. Evergreen, which hadn't yet won a conference game at that point, has since played every opponent within 10 points and won twice. They hosted Northwest last Saturday and lost, 83-74.
The Geoducks shoot the lowest percentage in the league (41.9) and allow the highest (49.5) from the floor, but the 3-point line has kept them competitive: they've made 109 triples, the third-most in the CCC, at a 34.8-percent clip.
Senior guards Dre Taylor (17.6 points) and Kyle Calhoun (15.8) are their go-to scorers, while Marc Taylor contributes 12.3 points and 8.3 boards.
"Their improvement really started when we played them and they've been a pain for everyone since," McDermott said. "They're a tough matchup because they usually play four guards and run up and down the floor really well. It's a nice blend of 3-point shooting and the ability to take people off the dribble."
SOU NOTES: With his final basket last Friday at Corban, Eric Thompson had took over sole possession of second place on SOU's all-time scoring list, passing Tom Chipps' total of 1,648. He finished with 14 points, scored 28 Saturday at Northwest Christian, and ranks 22nd in the NAIA at 20.6 per game. "» In his last three games, Kyle Tedder has hit 11 of 21 3-pointers. SOU ranks ninth in the NAIA at 9.7 made per game. "» SOU is averaging just eight turnovers in its last three games, led by Jeff Bush's 15-to-2 ratio.