Three Rivers was dealt a dose of heartbreak Tuesday against Arkansas Baptist.
After Tallon Fonda knocked down a pair of free throws to put the Raiders ahead by a point with under 10 seconds remaining in the game, Fonda was whistled for a foul on the other end while trying to contest a shot and establish verticality with 0.2 seconds to go.
Jaylon Kinnard buried the first, and the second one rattled around the rim before falling to wrap up a 73-72 win for Arkansas Baptist.
"I just think that was a bad call," Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said. "The game rested on a call on a guy both hands in the air trying to avoid a foul. I don't know how they got a foul out of it, but you know, you have to accept whatever it was. … We had two calls at the wrong time, but that's kind of the nature of the game."
Prior to the heartbreak, the Raiders (10-17) had gotten back in the game with a couple of clutch plays. Hayden Sprenkel, who was 2-for-10 from deep until late in the second half, knocked down a 3 to tie the game at 67 with two minutes to go.
Overall, the Raiders struggled from the 3-point line at 28 percent (7-for-25).
Kinnard got a trip to the free-throw line to regain the lead for Arkansas Baptist after heaving up a desperation shot as the shot clock expired with 54 seconds left. A foul was called on Abiodun Ayetimiyi after he bumped into Kinnard after the shot. The foul was the fifth for Ayetimiyi.
Moments later, Sprenkel split a pair after a Buffaloes basket, but Mandarius Dickerson came away with a steal and layup in the backcourt to put the Raiders up by a point. The Raiders finished with 24 points off turnovers for the game.
"We needed a stop, so I rotated, got the steal, got the layup. We needed the layup," Dickerson said. "On defense, we should've made them shoot a 3 instead of driving to the hole. We should've played better defense and known how to rotate."
Kinnard stepped up once again with the game on the line, scoring at the rim to set up the final sequence and earn the win for the Buffaloes.
Five players scored in double figures for the Raiders, led by Fonda with 16 points. The Raiders, though, tallied 19 turnovers as ball security was problematic at times. Kinnard finished with 18 points, and Caleb Parker led the Buffaloes with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
"We played good, but we can play harder," Dickerson said. "We all had bad games; some of our shooters had bad shooting nights, but we'll come back. We play again Saturday, another region game. We've got to come out and come in third place."
For the first 10 minutes of the game, it seemed like the Buffaloes couldn't miss. They were dropping in shot after shot as their lead climbed to 10 points midway through the first half.
"We didn't play well early, and I was just hoping we could get past this one and maybe get a little confidence and move on and we didn't get it done," Bess said.
The Raiders, though, stormed back with a 14-1 run to take their first lead of the night. Destine Russell and Dickerson helped stop the Three Rivers drought when Russell dished to a cutting Dickerson for a layup at the rim on Russell's first possession after checking into the game.
After a free throw from Austin Parker, Sprenkel slid over to take a charge on defense and get the ball back for the Raiders. Miganeh Jama knocked down a 3-pointer soon after when Parker kicked the ball back out from the post for the open look.
Fonda got open for a two-handed dunk a few possessions later, and Dickerson took a pass from Sprenkel and laid it home to cap the run and give Three Rivers its first lead of the night.
Ladarin Ceazar quickly gave the Buffaloes the lead again with a catch-and-shoot 3, and Devonta Harkless stretched it back to four points after he stuck back a missed shot.
Arkansas Baptist held the lead until the Raiders closed the half with a 6-0 spurt. The Raiders were helped out after Caleb Parker was fouled on a 3-pointer with less than a second to go in the half but missed all three shots at the stripe.
Both teams fought and traded baskets in the second half as neither side led by more than four points for the first 10 minutes of the half.
The Raiders couldn't get their open 3s to fall for the first nine minutes of the second until Sprenkel and Jama knocked down back-to-back treys to give the hosts a 3-point lead. On the next trip down the court, the Buffaloes secured a rebound, but Dickerson knocked the ball away to Ayetimiyi who scored an easy layup. Parker pulled down a rebound and took it coast-to-coast past the whole defense for two more.
Each side exchanged free throws for much of the last five minutes until the heartbreaking final two free throws gave the Buffaloes the win.
Next up for the Raiders, they'll travel to Mineral Area. The tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic