For the first time since February, the Raiders are on a two-game winning streak. Three Rivers spent the holiday tipping off the Peoples Community Bank Thanksgiving Classic with a big win. Sophomore Tristan Jarrett continued to shoulder the bulk of the load with 31 points, 12 rebounds and five steals — all of which led the game and gave him his third double-double and third 30-point game — as the Raiders demolished Wilbur Wright College, 98-70. In the first half, Jarrett sparked a 10-0 run that gave the Raiders a comfortable lead for the remainder of the game. With sophomore Willie Lucas in a walking boot with an injury that's expected to sideline him until around region play, the Raiders need someone to step up and help fill the void he leaves behind. "He's that type of player. Our fast break offense is geared to a player like him," coach Gene Bess said. "He had too many turnovers tonight, but he's pretty solid and he's key to our offense right now." Added Jarrett, "You know I've gotta help him on the rebounds because we're losing a good rebounder. He told me before the game I had to step up in his spot and my spot, so that was big for me tonight." With the Raiders ahead 17-13 with just over 11 minutes left in the first half, Wilbur Wright (2-5) briefly switched to a 2-3 zone. The ball found its way to Jarrett in the corner, and he drove past a defender who didn't cut off the baseline for a layup off the glass. On the next possession, Jarrett worked back to the corner on the same side of the court. This time, he called for the ball and drained a triple with a hand in his face as soon as he caught it. Freshman Tallon Fonda snuck in the middle of the zone on the next possession when freshman Mandarius Dickerson found him for a finger roll to stretch the lead. Redshirt sophomore Abiodun Ayetimiyi picked the pocket of Emanuel O'Neal on the ensuing possession and threw a pass to Austin Parker for a two-handed dunk in transition. With the crowd rocking while the Raiders were rolling, Wilbur Wright was forced to take a timeout to try to stem the tide. The timeout stopped the run, but the damage was done. The Raiders' lead was never cut to single digits for the remainder of the game. In the second half, though, the Raiders found themselves in a familiar spot. What was once a 21-point lead had been cut to 11 with the score at 55-44 with 14:20 left in the game. Against Triton a week ago, Three Rivers (4-4) had lost a 16-point lead at around the same mark of the second half. The Raiders weren't letting it happen again. "I'll take that blame right there," Jarrett said. "I've gotta turn up the team before the half starts so we can keep the same energy we had going into halftime so we don't lose the lead. We could've won by bigger than that but they cut the lead down to 11 and we had to go right back up." Wilbur Wright freshman Kente Rushing was called for a technical foul for arguing a call after Jarrett was fouled in the paint, and two free throws from freshman Hayden Sprenkel gave the Raiders just the boost they needed to weather the storm. "I wish we could simulate that in practice and try to get them to realize they have to concentrate and can't lose their focus," Bess said. "I guess you just kind of have to go through it. That's what I'm starting to realize after 60 years of basketball coaching."
Two minutes later, Sprenkel nailed a 3 from the top of the key. Dickerson then came up with a steal and nailed his own 3 from the same spot as Sprenkel to put Three Rivers back up by 18. It kept raining for the Raiders when backto-back 3s from Ayetimiyi gave the hosts their largest lead of the game to that point at 22. When Ayetimiyi was subbed out after giving the team some quality minutes, the Poplar Bluff alum received a standing ovation from the home crowd. "I like the way (Ayetimiyi) played. He gives us an energy level. I'd like to see him gradually get more playing time because we tried him at the point, and he doesn't fit the point," Bess said. "You need a player like him for effort." Ayetimiyi finished with 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds in 20 minutes, his first game of the season in double figures. The lead swelled to as many as 29 points with under a minute left when Fonda showed off his athleticism with a two-handed alley-oop dunk in transition from Dickerson, stamping and sealing the game and getting the fans on their feet. "We started the tournament out good and set an example for how the rest is gonna go," Jarrett said. "We've got a game tomorrow, and we're going to transfer this tonight to tomorrow." Fonda tallied 13 points and four blocks, one shy of his season high in 17 minutes. The Raiders scored 29 points off of 24 forced turnovers. Three Rivers won the rebounding battle 47 to 46, something Bess said needs to continue to improve. "We've certainly decided that everybody is going to have to rebound because we're not a good rebounding team," Bess said. "I keep thinking Austin (Parker), you know, he can rebound down there. I keep thinking maybe Aaron (Tait) can get a rebound or two, but it seems to not be of the utmost importance to a lot of our players."
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic