Raiders add to hot start

The Southern Oregon University men's basketball team knows it has a long way to go, and although a 6-1 start might be hard proof, it was evident on Friday night.

The shorthanded Raiders survived a William Jessup scare to notch an 85-77 win, their fifth in a row, but lost a 17-point lead and nearly the game in the process during the first night of the Flagship Inn Invitational.

Saturday night the Raiders will host Willamette (1-2), which dropped a 91-71 decision to Oregon Tech on Friday. The game is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff, while Tech and William Jessup will square off at 5:30.

After shooting 59 percent in the first half, including 7-for-9 from 3-point range, the Raiders squandered a 48-34 halftime edge thanks to 0-for-14 shooting to start the second frame.

Drew Herrera's jumper with 6:40 left was SOU's first field goal of the half and broke a 60-60 tie. Herrera, a junior transfer from North Medford High, led SOU with 20 points on 5-for-9 shooting. The guard was 8-for-10 from the free throw line, and the Raiders were 29-for-37 as a team, including 12-for-12 in the second half before they made their first bucket.

"When you shoot as well as we did in the first half, your offense is going to look pretty good no matter what," said senior point guard Humphrey Jackson, who chipped in 14 points, five rebounds and a game-high five assists. "And when you can't make a shot, the offense is going to look pretty bad.

"We couldn't get easy baskets in the second half either, so we had to try to make something happen in our half-court offense and we just didn't move the ball very well," Jackson added.

The Raiders held their biggest lead at 35-18, but Tevin Hurd's layup gave William Jessup its first lead at 60-58 with under eight minutes left.

Junior forward Austin Wolfer's free throws tied the game on the next possession and ignited a 15-4 run, which was capped by a Chris Mackovjak put-back. The lead was eventually cut to three, but Herrera nailed a high-arching three from the corner with 1:45 left to push it back to six.

Justonn Smith, one of three Raiders averaging double-digit points, had 19 points after making his first three 3-point attempts and added seven rebounds. The senior transfer is a big reason SOU has gotten off to its best start since 2005 despite missing three key players.

Starting posts David Grant and Ryan Staker are both out with broken thumbs, and while Staker was in uniform Friday, both missed their fourth straight games. Staker, a 6-foot-8 senior transfer from California-Irvine, was leading the Raiders with 15.7 points and seven rebounds per game before being sidelined. The Raiders are also down their leading scorer from last year, guard Jarrad Childs, who only had one semester of eligibility left and will return on Dec. 15.

While those additions figure to help the Raiders in the offensive consistency and firepower departments, a bigger concern at the moment is the defense which has let opponents score 76.9 points per game. "We're not even close to where we want to be right now (defensively)," Smith said. "We're getting a little too caught up with our offense, and we know we can score almost anytime so I think we've just been getting lazy. We just need some time to work on it, and once we get all our guys back we should be fine."

Roland Johnson was the only other Raider in double digits, scoring 13 points off the bench on 6 of 8 shooting.

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