Flagship Inn tournament is one big homecoming

The Southern Oregon University men's basketball team hosts a Rogue Valley homecoming this weekend when the Flagship Inn Classic tips off tonight at McNeal Pavilion.

The four-team tilt, featuring the Raiders, Oregon Tech, Willamette University and Lewis and Clark State College, will bring old teammates and familiar faces together for the holiday weekend.

The four teams combine 10 players from the Rogue Valley, including eight former teammates, and all have played against some or all of the competition before. SOU and OIT feature four players and Willamette University has two local talents on its roster.

Leading the way for the Raiders is senior Matt Cowell from Grants Pass. Cowell leads Southern in scoring at 13.7 points per game. Joining him are Northern Arizona transfer Kory Mahr, team leader in rebounding (8.3 per game) and blocks (1.7) and sophomore Jason Nunnemaker. The three played for the Cavemen and helped their teams reach the state playoffs each season. Former Ashland High wing Josh McDermott rounds out Southern's collection of Rogue Valley talent.

Willamette's Corey Constantino returns home to Ashland. Constantino and McDermott played together all four years of high school. Constantino adds an all-around game to the Wolverines' attack; he averages 5.5 points and — rebounds. Another player returning home for the holiday weekend is senior Mike Smith. The Phoenix High product spearheads the Wolverines' offense, averaging 16 points and 4 assists.

Oregon Tech returns the strongest lineup of former SOC players. The owls feature three players from South Medford. Senior Ryan Fiegi ignites the Owl offense with 17 points, 5.9 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. Sophomores Myles Daley (9.1 ppg, 1.9 apg) and Brent Johnson (7.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg) add depth to Oregon Tech's lineup. Sophomore Joel Matchette is the furthest southern Oregon player, coming from Klamath Falls.

For the Raiders (4-3), the weekend is a chance to find an identity. The Raiders have struggled mightily in their losses, including blowouts to Oregon Tech, and Lewis and Clark. However, Southern also has shown flashes of brilliance, such as a 85-65 win over Pacific Union last Saturday.

"We're hoping this weekend gets us the last piece and we can show some progress in execution," SOU head coach Brian McDermott said. "This weekend should tell us a lot and solidify our rotation."

With a strong field of competition, the event figures to be a good barometer of these teams' longterm possibilities. The four teams have a combined 16-6 win-loss record. The Owls (6-1) and Lewis and Clark State (5-1) figure to be the top teams this weekend. Willamette (1-1), like the Raiders, will use this as an opportunity to assess its team strength.

The action starts tonight at 5:30 p.m., when Oregon Tech faces off against Lewis and Clark State. The game promises to be a high scoring affair, as the Owls and Warriors both average over 90 points per game.

The Raiders tip off against Willamette University following the Owls-Warriors contest. The game is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday night OIT opens against Willamette at 5:30 p.m. and the Raiders tip off against the Warriors at 7:30 p.m. All the games will be played at McNeal Pavilion.

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.

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