The Southern Oregon men’s basketball team will find out if it has any magic left in reserve Tuesday at seventh-ranked College of Idaho as it attempts to pull off one of the most improbable runs ever through the Cascade Conference Championships presented by U.S. Bank.
The sixth-seeded Raiders (21-10 overall) executed their first two upsets of the tournament by a total of three points to set up the final against the second-seeded Yotes (27-5), which will tip off at 6:06 p.m. Pacific Time (7:06 p.m. local time) inside the J.A. Albertson Center. Only two teams have previously won three consecutive road games to capture the tournament title: Corban, as the No. 8 seed in 2017, and C of I, as the No. 5 seed in ‘03. In the last 10 years, Corban was the only team to win it that didn’t also take at least a share of the regular-season championship.
SOU prevented C of I from claiming its share of the regular-season crown on Feb. 15 in Ashland by handing the Yotes an 85-69 loss that marked their most lopsided of the season. But the Yotes are 15-1 in Caldwell — taking their only loss in overtime against Corban in buzzer-beating fashion — and are the defending tourney champs, having defeated Warner Pacific 75-73 in last year’s title game.
How To Watch
For the second year in a row, the CCC title game will air live on ROOT SPORTS Northwest with Bob Akamian and Dave Harshman on the call. Fans in Ashland can watch at El Paraiso, Northwest Pizza & Pasta, Oak Tree Northwest, Omar’s Restaurant & Bar, and RedZone Bar & Grill.
What’s At Stake
The Raiders need a win to claim the CCC’s second automatic bid to the 32-team NAIA Division II National Tournament, which will be held March 6-12 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They’re seeking their ninth overall appearance in the national field and first since 2016. The Yotes are already in, assured of no worse than an at-large bid thanks to their No. 7 ranking in the latest Top 25 coaches’ poll. Oregon Tech earned the CCC’s first automatic bid by winning a regular-season title that it wrapped up with a 75-72 win over C of I in the finale.
How They Got Here
After going 9-9 in CCC play, the Raiders started their run with a 78-77 quarterfinal win at third-seeded Northwest Christian last Wednesday, though they nearly lost all of an eight-point lead in the final 30 seconds. Tristen Holmes led four Raiders in double figures with 19 points and nine rebounds, and watched as Tyrus Hosley’s desperation attempt went off the backboard at the buzzer. The Raiders trailed by 13 midway through the first half of the game, and they were down 11 midway through the first half of Saturday’s 76-74 semifinal win at fourth-seeded Corban. Aaron Borich played the hero, of course, with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that followed Corban’s missed one-and-one opportunity with 9.6 seconds left. It was Holmes who kept them in it, however, by making his last three 3-point attempts after the Raiders fell behind 68-60 with four minutes to go.
The Yotes have taken a contrasting path. They started with a 96-61 dismantling of seventh-seeded Warner Pacific, then took down eighth-seeded Northwest (Wash.) 95-59 after the Eagles eliminated top-seeded OIT in the quarterfinals. They shot a combined 53 percent in the wins, including a 28-of-55 display from 3. Junior forward Nate Bruneel has led the way with a 21-point average.
SOU’s win Saturday was the third in its last four semifinal road games. The Raiders are in the final for the sixth time but are looking for their first championship road win, having lost previously at Corban (2002), Warner Pacific (2013) and C of I (2015). They’ve won the title twice - over OIT in 1999 and over C of I (then Albertson) in 2005.
The Raiders were named the CCC’s Under Armour Team of the Week on Sunday, and Holmes’ reward for keeping his career alive was the CCC Red Lion Player of the Week award on Monday. After going for 19 and nine at NCU, he recorded 20 points and four assists at Corban and shot a combined 9-of-12 from 3-point range in the victories. Holmes has been clutch in connecting on 13 of his last 16 long-range attempts; prior to the stretch, he’d gone 15-of-83 this season. Last week, for the second year in a row, he was also one of 22 players across the NAIA to be selected to a Google Cloud Academic All-District team.
The Raiders are 25-53 all-time against the Yotes, including a 67-50 loss in last year’s semifinals, and picked up their last win in Caldwell during the 2015-16 season. The Yotes won this year’s first meeting, 72-69 on Dec. 1 in Caldwell, after trailing 60-59 with four minutes to go and despite shooting 38 percent compared to SOU’s 47. In the second matchup, on Feb. 15 in Ashland, the Raiders hit at a 54-percent clip and assisted 24 of their 30 field goals behind Jordan Hunt (18 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists) and Tez Allen (15 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists) for an 85-69 win. It was C of I’s fourth loss in five seasons at SOU.
After recording his first double-double at NCU, freshman guard Teron Bradford went for 16 points, five rebounds and four assists at Corban. In six February games, he’s averaged 14.2 points and 6.3 rebounds with 20 assists, seven steals and just three turnovers.
Junior wing Kaj Bansen came through at Corban with 5-of-9 shooting from 3. He’s made a team-best 35 this season and the Raiders are 6-0 when he hits at least three.
In his last three games against C of I, junior post Jordan Hunt has averaged 18.3 points on 74-percent shooting (25-of-34) to go with 6.7 rebounds.
In the Corban win, Holmes passed former teammate Jordan West to go to No. 12 on SOU’s career scoring list (1,404). He still stand at No. 3 on the assists list (445).
SOU was within five points in the final five minutes of all nine of its CCC regular-season losses.