Eli Thornton of Southern Oregon University, left, goes high for a basket over Northwest University’s Greg Peters during their Cascade Conference game. - Kayla Young

Defense puts SOU in hunt

ASHLAND — Consistency and defense haven't exactly been the hallmarks of this winter's Southern Oregon University men's basketball team. Nonetheless, the Raiders find themselves right in the thick of the race for a postseason tournament berth as the season enters its homestretch.

Jarrad Childs and Eli Thornton combined for 37 points as the Raiders posted consecutive wins for just the second time this season with a 68-55 victory over Northwest University at McNeal Pavilion on Friday night.

The Raiders will aim for their first three-game winning streak of the season when they entertain Evergreen State tonight at 7:30.

"The biggest thing is just that we're playing better," SOU coach Brian McDermott said. "Tonight was one of our best efforts defensively."

The 55 points allowed equalled a season best. SOU had surrendered an average of 89 points per game in its previous five outings, going 1-4 in that span.

"We're playing really good right now," said Childs, who played just seven minutes of Monday's win over Evergreen State before leaving with a sprained ankle. Childs bounced back to lead all scorers with 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting, and also had nine rebounds.

The win moves the Raiders (7-13, 5-6 Cascade Conference) into a tie for sixth place in the 11-team league. The top eight teams qualify for the league tournament. Friday's game was the start of a four-week stretch that sees the Raiders playing five of their next seven games at home before finishing the season on the road.

"Our hope is to be at our best in February and we're heading in that direction," McDermott said.

The Raiders snapped a 12-all tie midway through the first half and didn't trail again against a team that had beaten them by 29 points on Dec. 20.

While SOU lead throughout the second half, the Raiders could never seem to put away the pesky Eagles (10-10, 4-7). Childs almost single-handedly kept SOU in front down the stretch, making five field goals and five free throws in the second half. His prettiest play, however, came on a fastbreak where he drove the lane, drew a defender toward him and hit Thornton for a layup and eventual three-point play that extended SOU's lead to 62-55 with 2:01 to play and broke the Eagles' backs.

"We got some transition stuff and also were able to play in the halfcourt," McDermott said.

Thornton had perhaps his best game of the season, running the floor at a breakneck pace and making 7 of 12 shots to finish with 18 points.

"That's definitely where I feel most comfortable," he said.

Just a 39 percent free-throw shooter, Thornton made 4 of 5 from the line, including three in the closing minutes to thwart a potential Northwest rally. SOU scored the last 10 points of the contest, six of them coming at the free-throw line.

"Eli's capable of that every night," McDermott said. "If he plays harder on defense, it leads to better things for him."

SOU shot 46 percent from the field — slightly above its season average — while holding Northwest to just 36 percent.

"I think we've done some better things defensively and are still able to get some transition," McDermott said.

Neither team could hit the broad side of a barn for long stretches in the first half, which ended with SOU leading 30-26. The play picked up measurably in the second half, with Northwest getting within three in the final three minutes. Eddie Coulson led the Eagles with 15 points, while Greg George added 11 points and 12 rebounds.

"Everybody is starting to believe that we can play with anybody," Thornton said.

NORTHWEST (10-10, 4-7)

Coulson 7-12 1-1 15, George 4-11 3-5 11, Skillman 3-8 0-0 7, Ashe 2-8 1-2 6, Landon 2-4 0-0 5, Peters 2-4 0-0 4, Waltman 2-5 0-0 4, Solomon 1-11 0-0 3, Rheaume 0-0 0-0 0, Downs 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-63 5-8 55.


Childs 6-13 5-7 19, Thornton 7-12 4-5 18, Jackson 4-7 0-1 8, Wolfer 4-5 0-0 8, McDermott 2-8 1-3 6, Vaughn 2-6 0-2 4, Tiefenthaler 1-2 0-0 3, McCay 0-1 2-2 2, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, White 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 12-20 68.

Halftime — Southern Oregon 30, Northwest 26. 3-point goals — Northwest 4 (Skillman 1, Landon 1, Solomon 1, Ashe 1), Southern Oregon 4 (Childs 2, Tiefenthaler 1, McDermott 1). Fouled out — Northwest (Waltman). Rebounds — Northwest 44 (George 12), Southern Oregon 32 (Childs 9). Assists — Northwest 8 (Solomon 3), Southern Oregon 17 (Jackson 7). Total fouls — Northwest 19, Southern Oregon 12.

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