What a difference a week can make in the wild, wacky, unpredictable Cascade Conference.
Coleton Baker scored 24 points and Northwest Christian hit big shot after big shot to eliminate Southern Oregon from the Cascade Conference men's basketball playoffs with an 86-74 first-round win Wednesday at Bob Riehm Arena.
The loss will almost certainly cost the Raiders any shot at garnering an at-large berth to the NAIA Division II tournament, and it occurred only five days after they entered the final weekend of the regular season ranked No. 14 in the nation and in position to snare the second seed in the league tourney. Instead, the Raiders clanked their way through their worst three-game shooting slump of the season and will now have to say goodbye to three key seniors — point guard Jeff Bush, shooting guard Kyle Tedder and center David Sturner — who helped turn SOU into a national power that advanced to nationals last season and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation on Dec. 2.
"Sometimes it's hard to explain," SOU assistant coach Chris Schmerbach said. "Basketball's a game of ups and downs and sometimes you're shooting really well and sometimes you're not, and you've got to be able to survive both the good times and the bad. It's unfortunate that the last three games that we just didn't shoot the ball like we have all year."
Adding to the pain of the loss for the Raiders was the news of another first-round upset. Oregon Tech's win over Concordia meant that a win by SOU would have yielded a semifinal home game for the Raiders Saturday.
Thanks to another ice-cold effort, the Raiders (22-9) had no reason to scoreboard-watch. After going 10-for-71 from long range in losses to Warner Pacific and Concordia last week, the Raiders hit just six of 24 3-point attempts Wednesday. This from a Raider squad that entered last weekend as the league's top long-distance shooting team.
"We just caught Southern at a bad time when they just weren't playing their best basketball," Northwest Christian head coach Luke Jackson said. "I give them a lot of credit, they have great coaches, great players — Tedder and Thompson are two of the best in the league — but we came and we fought tonight."
So did the Beacons.
Led by Baker, point guard Javonte Byrd and Spencer Coleman, Northwest Christian seemed unable to miss whenever Southern Oregon pulled within single digits in the second half. That was especially true at the free-throw line, where the Beacons (17-12) hit all 26 of their attempts.
Byrd scored 17 points, including a backbreaking three-point play with 1:39 to go to push the lead back to eight moments after Sturner cut it to five with a baby hook.
Baker followed that with a pair of free throws and, after Tedder air-balled a 3 attempt, Coleman beat everyone down court for an emphatic two-handed slam.
Later, Baker swiped the ball from Tedder and passed up a wide-open layup before taking a foul. He nailed both, completing a stellar night that included 13 second-half points.
"At first I just got a couple open looks and it kind of got me going, and then my teammates were finding me," Baker said.
Eric Thompson led four Raiders in double figures with 18 points, Sturner added 17 and Tedder 12. Bush battled foul trouble all night and finished with 11 points and five assists before fouling out with 1 minute, 10 seconds to go.
The Raiders shot 56 percent (15 of 27) in the second half to make a game of it after struggling through a 10-for-26 effort in the first half. The Beacons, who were picked to finish eighth in the league's preseason coaches' poll, led 41-31 at the break and never trailed.
"We were the underdogs in every game, but it doesn't matter," Byrd said. "Come out and play hard and anything can happen."
Northwest Christian's win was its third of the season over SOU, which was picked to win the conference. The Beacons will travel to face Northwest on Saturday.
"The thing about our league, especially this year, is you've got eight teams that can beat anybody on any given night," Schmerbach said. "So if you're not at your best and you can't overcome some things like shooting, it's going to be a challenge."