Raiders not surprised by hot start, credit leadership

The Southern Oregon men's basketball team doesn't have to look back too far to find the last Raiders squad that got off to a hot start.

Last season, the Raiders were riding high at 7-1 heading into their Cascade Collegiate Conference opener, a home game against Concordia. The good vibe proved to be fool's gold, as the Cavaliers scorched the Raiders by 17 points, sending SOU tumbling toward an eventual 4-14 finish in league play. This season, the Raiders are off to another encouraging start. Only this time, SOU's early-season streak wasn't vaporized by the pressure of its league opener, even though this time that league opener came on the road.

The Raiders are 8-2 overall and 2-0 in the Cascade Conference after sweeping its first meaningful road trip of the season last weekend at Concordia and Warner Pacific. With Saturday's thrashing of Warner Pac, the Raiders are six games above .500 after 10 games for the first time since the 2005-06 season, when Shea Washington led the Raiders to the NAIA Division II National Tournament.

While SOU head coach Brian McDermott isn't quite ready to reserve plane tickets to Point Lookout, Mo., for the national championships, he loves the makeup of this year's squad, and says the team's basketball IQ is helping to speed up the Raiders' development.

"We run more stuff right now than we did all of last year," said McDermott, who picked up his 200th win as the Raiders head coach on Saturday. "We just execute better. And then, when we get to the end of executing it, the shot goes in. When you make shots things change, and we made shots last weekend."

Indeed, the Raiders were excellent from outside during the weekend sweep. Led by junior forward Jordan Highland and redshirt freshman wing Dex Daum, SOU shot 48 percent against Warner Pacific and 43 percent against Concordia, including 65 percent in the second half as the Raiders held on for an 85-79 victory.

Highland, who was voted the Cascade Conference player of the week, scored 31 points on 13 of 16 shooting against the Cavs, then went for 17 on 6 of 9 shooting the next night against the Knights.

Highland, the only Raider listed in the league's preseason all-conference team, said SOU has a little extra motivation this season after being picked to finish last in the Cascade Conference preseason coaches poll.

"When we got picked 10th, that kind of pissed us all off and we really wanted to go out with something to prove and we still feel like we have more to prove," said Highland, who's averaging a team-best 15.9 points. "We can't be satisfied with a 2-0 start because that can turn to 2-2 if you don't prepare yourself."

That won't be a problem, according to Daum, who's confident that the Raiders have what it takes to keep their heads above water in the always tough Cascade Conference, which currently has three teams ranked in the NAIA Division II top 25 poll.

"We play hard, we play together and we play to win," said Daum, who hit 11 of 15 shots, including 6 of 8 3-pointers on his way to a 29-point night against Concordia.

Highland credits the team's five seniors — Trevor McCay, Drew Herrera, Armani Jackson, Danny Derry and Kellen Hawley, for instilling a disciplined approach.

"I think it starts with our leadership," he said. "We've got some great senior leaders who really push us every practice and we work hard. This is the hardest working team that I've been on in a while, and if you work hard every day, you're going to see results."

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