Having a height disadvantage was no problem for the Raiders on Friday. Despite going up against Tennessee prep, which had four players on its roster listed at 6-foot, 7 inches or taller — including a 7-1 Eric Rustin — Three Rivers finished plus 7 in the rebounding margin (44 to 37) and scored 18 second chance points in a 97-76 victory in the Peoples Community Bank Thanksgiving Classic. The Raiders' three-game winning streak is their first since last year's Thanksgiving Tournament. Sophomore Tristan Jarrett continued his torrid scoring run. He put up 26 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals, shooting 12 of 22 from the field and bringing his scoring average up to 24.9 points per game. He is now 10th in the nation in scoring after earning 25 points or more in his past six games. With no one on the roster taller than 6-6, going up against a 7-footer in Rustin called for schematic adjustments from the team. When Rustin tried to post up, Three Rivers often fronted the post with the interior defender and put help on the backside. As a result, Rustin finished with 8 points in limited opportunities at the rim, shooting 4 of 8 from the floor. "That's the way we tried to play. Maybe the post man isn't a great scorer in there, but … one reason I don't like letting the post man catch the ball is he can kick it to the other side," coach Gene Bess said. Guards were consistently crashing the glass and making an effort on the boards, something Bess said he'd wanted to see all season. "Coach always lets us know we don't really have size, but we're all we have, so for us to win we have to crash to the boards," redshirt sophomore Abiodun Ayetimiyi said. "You want at least three people to be on the boards and to just keep pushing and no matter what, we'll get there." Ayetimiyi made his first start of the season, and the Poplar Bluff alum scored 5 points to complement four assists. His contributions go well beyond the stat sheet, though. "I just felt like I needed to bring the energy early," Ayetimiyi said. We need energy. I know that was one of the reasons they had me there starting. I just want to win no matter what it takes. Me being a sophomore and being one of the leaders on the team, I just have to show it by example." Bess said the intensity Ayetimiyi brings to the team is vital, and it's needed, especially as players try to make up for the absence of the team's second-leading scorer, sophomore Willie Lucas, who is exptected to be out until at least January with a foot injury. "He guarded the point guard, he put pressure on the ball and we'd really had a hard time doing that this year," Bess said. "I felt all along that (Ayetimiyi) could be the key to that. He works so hard and he's smart. He's got that great attitude, that winning attitude." Both teams were battling early with Three Rivers holding a small lead. With the Raiders in front 31-25 with 6:34 left in the first half, they ended on as 16-6 run to take control of the game. Freshman Hayden Sprenkel started the run with a deep 3-pointer that hit nothing but net from the top of the key. After a steal by Aaron Tait, the ball came loose in transition and was knocked around to freshman Austin Parker, who scored an easy layup to give Three Rivers its first double digit lead. Rustin responded with a reverse layup along the baseline for one of his four field goals to bring Tennessee Prep back within nine points, Jarrett scored a smooth fadeaway along the baseline to put the Raiders up 11 again. "We know if we don't really have size, we just have to have the right rotation and just know the help side and stuff like that," Ayetimiyi said. "We just make sure we focus and know when to help. We're not going to help when they don't need help." Ayetimiyi stole the ball from Kohen Thompson and raced down the floor before dishing a no-look pass to Parker for a one-handed dunk to complete the three-on-one fast break. Sprenkel followed up with another 3 that was nothing but the bottom of the net, and Jarrett followed up with another baseline jumper, drawing a foul from behind in the process. Freshman Mandarius Dickerson finished off the run with a coast-to-coast layup with four seconds left in the half, putting the Raiders up 16 at halftime. The Raiders claimed their largest lead of the game with under five minutes to go. After holding a steady lead, Tennessee Prep point guard Tyreek Montgomery was called for a technical foul after being whistled for a foul while guarding sophomore Chris Stocks. Sprenkel made both technical free throws, and Stocks drained both of his freebies for an easy four points. Parker then drove the lane for a dunk to add to the lead. A few possessions later, freshman Tallon Fonda put home a corner 3 to put the Raiders up 30 with four minutes left to complete a 13-2 run. Three Rivers finished with four players in double figures. Stocks went 5 of 8 from the floor with 15 points. Parker finished with 12 points and nine rebounds on an efficient 5 of 6 shooting, and Sprenkel added 11 with three triples. "I thought this was our best game we'd played all year," Bess said. "This is the level we have to play at if we're going to compete in the region. We have to build on this."
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic