After winning two games by stopping a late 3, the Raiders made things a bit more comfortable for Raider fans on Thursday. Three Rivers took a double-digit lead late in the first half, and only briefly relinquished it the rest of the game to beat North Arkansas 102-85 on Thursday at the Libla Family Sports Complex. The Raiders (10-5) picked up their third straight win Thursday and have now won 5 of 6 dating back to the Thanksgiving Tournament. It is the earliest point in the year that the Raiders have reached double-digit wins since the 2016-17 season when Three Rivers opened the season with 10 straight wins before losing in the final game of the Thanksgiving Tournament. That season, the Raiders would go on to finish 25-8 and win the Region XVI Tournament.
At this date in the previous two seasons, Three Rivers had six wins. "We thought we'd be 3-12 or thereabouts. We've got a really tough schedule and we weren't really bringing back a lot. I really like our players and I think that's been the difference the past 2-3 years. These guys are on the same page, they're out there working," Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said. "Everybody has worked hard. We've got really good assistant coaches. We've been on the same page. They have high expectations and I do too. If we are playing at our best at the end of the season, that is success."
Tallon Fonda came off the bench to lead the team with 19 points. Kinyon Hodges and Brahm Harris both had 17 points. Hodges also had eight rebounds and Harris got six. Lydell Geffrard had 12 points and eight rebounds and Dionte Raines had 10 points and three steals in 17 minutes of the bench. "I think as (Lydell) gets in better shape and plays his way through a little bit of a knee problem, I think he's got a good future," Bess said. "(Dionte's) helped us the past three games unbelievably. We've got some guys who just keep getting better and if they do, it is just going to make us a better team."
The Raiders went on a nine-point run over 90 seconds in the first half to go ahead 25-18, their biggest lead up to that point. Fonda, Jacob Shoemaker and Rains made 3s for the burst, but North Arkansas responded with eight straight points to retake the lead. Shortly after falling behind by a point Hayden Sprenkel made a 3 from the corner and minutes later, Harris scored to give the Raiders their first double-digit lead with 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half and the Raiders went into halftime with a 51- 38 lead. North Arkansas (10-3), which entered the game averaging 110 points to be second in Division II, briefly got within 10 points with 15 minutes still to go in the game, but Willie Lucas responded with a 3 for the Raiders. "I can see them going pretty deep in Division II," Bess said A little more than 5 minutes later, the Pioneers again cut the lead to nine points, and this time Brahm Harris made a 3. Later on, Shoemaker swished a 3 as the clock hit the 4-minute mark to put the Raiders ahead by 20. Hodges made a jumper from the free-throw line with more than 2 minutes left to give Three Rivers 100 points in a game for the second time this season.
Three Rivers has eight of its 15 games to within 10 points this season and is 5-3 in those contests, but has won the past four against Southwestern Ilinois, MSU-West Plains, South Arkansas University Tech and Roane State. The other close win was by three points at John A. Logan, which was the first time the Raiders had won at Carterville, Ill., since 2013. "We had a pretty good idea that most of the games would go to the wire, and they still are. That hadn't changed. We have a little more of a feel for several of the players," Bess said. John A. Logan and its No. 2 ranked NJCAA recruit Jay Scrubb, who is signed with Louisville, will come to Poplar Bluff on Monday in Three Rivers' final game of the month. The last time Three Rivers swept the season series against John A. Logan was also 2013. "It's going to be a tremendous challenge," Bess said. "I think it will sure test the character of our players as to whether we can get back, play hard and compete like we need to." Following Monday's game, the Raiders won't play at home again until Jan. 15, when they will host Arkansas State Mid-South. The first home Region XVI game is Jan. 25 against Moberly Area.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic