The Raiders' longest winning streak since February 2017 will have to come at a later date. After the Raiders held a 12-point lead in the first half and were looking to extend their winning streak to four games, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M (8-4) guards Ravel Moody and Kyle Lukasiewicz combined for 51 points to lead the Norsemen past the Raiders 79-69. "I was just kind of disappointed that we didn't show any poise attacking the zone," coach Gene Bess said. Three Rivers (5-5) trailed by as many as 13 points with around 6 minutes to go in the game, but a 10-3 run gave the Raiders hope late. Sophomore Tristan Jarrett tried to take over, scoring seven of his team-high 26 points during the run. He drove through contact for a layup, nailed a fadeaway along the baseline after corralling an errant pass and stepped into a 3-pointer that was a couple of feet beyond the arc to pull the Raiders within six with under 2 minutes to play. The defense wasn't as solid as it'd been during the previous three games, though, and it hurt the Raiders late. Valentin Van Putten got open along the baseline and Moody dropped it off to him for a layup to stretch the lead back to eight. Two possessions later, Moody capped his 29-point performance with a drive and two-handed dunk from the baseline. "We didn't do our jobs," redshirt sophomore Abiodun Ayetimiyi said. We didn't really attack the zone. We were out there relaxing and believing in our shot. We should've cut up the zone more, but we didn't, so I feel that really affected us."
Despite the late struggles, Three Rivers played a determined first half. The 3-pointers were falling early and often for the Raiders, who used a barrage of six early triples to jump ahead 22-10 just 5 minutes into the game. New starters Hayden Sprenkel and Ayetimiyi made the most of their early minutes by connecting on four of those early shots from beyond the arc. "We jumped out and got off to a good lead like we have been, but that zone really stymied it," Bess said. "We just don't have enough leadership out on the court. … It was a step moving forward and about two steps back tonight because we just didn't come and compete like we could." NEO took the punch and came back with a shot of its own, rattling off a 10-0 run to pull within a point. Moody went off in the first half, scoring 19 points and sparking the run with a pump fake into a 3-pointer to pull back within single digits. Moody then drove to the lane and missed a layup, but the ball bounced right back to him for a putback. Moody then stepped into a triple and knocked it down, scoring eight of the 10 points on the run. Three Rivers never lost its lead in the first half, leading 42-38 at the intermission but NEO started to take over in the second 20 minutes. During that stretch, the absence of a player like sophomore Willie Lucas, who has averaging 16 points per game before getting put in a walking boot with an ankle injury. "If we have Willie in there, he has size," Ayetimiyi said. "He can play in and out, so we really miss his impact on the game. We really need him and his shooting ability. Guys thought they were going to make more shots, but it didn't work out that way, and that really brought us down." An 11-2 run put the visitors up 10 points with under seven minutes remaining. Throughout the second half, NEO's 2-3 zone forced the Raiders into errant passes and led to easy baskets on the other end of the court. Kyrele Benford started the second-half run with a putback in the paint after a missed shot. During the sequence, freshman Jay Hines caught an elbow to the chin trying to contest the shot. After a turnover, Kyle Lukasiewicz scored an easy layup on the other end for two more. Moody stepped into another 3-pointer to give NEO its first double figure lead of the night. The scoring from both sides slowed down briefly, but Jarrett cut the NEO to eight points with a fadeaway jumper on the baseline. Moody answered the call once again, though, working to the corner and getting wide open for a triple. The Raiders finished the game with 21 turnovers, leading to 20 points for the Norsemen, arguably the biggest difference in the game. "I have about 15 hours of tape to show them because we haven't played this bad since we played Wabash (Valley)," Bess said. Three Rivers will have a week off before traveling to North Arkansas for a 2 p.m. tipoff Saturday.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic