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Geoducks down Eastern Oregon, 84-74, to lock up NAIA National tournament berth

February 28, 2009

LaGRANDE, Ore. -- Nate Menefee led the way with 28 points as the Evergreen State College defeated No. 10 Eastern Oregon University, 84-74, in the semi-finals of the Cascade Collegiate Conference men's basketball tournament on the road Saturday night to clinch a berth in the NAIA Division II National Tournament in Branson, Missouri March 11-17.

The Geoducks (19-10) travel to Oregon Tech to meet the conference regular-season co-champion Owls, who defeated Northwest Christian University 64-50 in the other CCC semi-final, for the conference playoff crown on Tuesday night.

Ninth-ranked Oregon Tech earned the first of two conference automatic berths by claiming the regular season crown. The second berth goes to the playoff champion or -- if the playoff champ and regular season champ are the same team -- the runner-up. Evergreen will thus make the tourney no matter what happens in its second consecutive trip to the CCC title game. The Geoducks lost to Warner Pacific at home a year ago and were denied an at-large bid; this season they left nothing to chance. Eastern Oregon (23-7) is a likely candidate to reach Branson as an at-large team this season, thanks to its high national ranking.

Evergreen took a 24-17 lead after ten minutes, but the Mounties quickly clawed back to take a 29-28 lead with 6:14 to go before halftime on a three-pointer by Jeremy Templeton, who finished with a game high 17 points for Eastern.

The Geoducks next led with 15:27 to play in the game when John Levi III scored on a fast break layup to make it 42-41. The teams then swapped the lead back and forth two more times before Evergreen went up for good 53-51 on a Michael Ward lay-up-and-one with 10:15 to play. Evergreen led by as many as 12 but couldn't shake a determined Eastern.

With 56 seconds to play, the Mountaineers cut the lead to 78-71 against a Geoduck team that had seen seemingly safe leads disappear twice in the final seconds earlier in the season, away from home against Southern Oregon University and the College of Idaho. But, this time, Nick Moore slammed in a fast break dunk and Levi followed with a pair of free throws to rebuild an 11-point lead and send Evergreen on its way to the Ozarks with a stop in Klamath Falls.

In addition to Menefee's 28 points -- just shy of extending his Evergreen record of eight 30 point games in a season -- Moore tallied 17 while Ward and center Julio Feliciano had 14. Evergreen, the NAIA's third-ranked field goal shooting team at slightly better than 50% coming into the game, outdid itself by shooting 55% from the field on the night to win despite being granted just eight foul shots by the officials. Evergreen also outrebounded the Mounties, 35-33, with Feliciano's seven and six each from Menefee and Anthony Gallagher leading the way.

The Mountaineers will now wait to see if they receive an at large bid to the NAIA Tournament, which will be determined next Wednesday, March 4th.

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