The Three Rivers men’s basketball team played a tough schedule during the first semester.
It’s about to get even tougher.
The Raiders travel to Mineral Area on Saturday for a 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. doubleheader, and though everyone is 0-0 in the region standings, the Cardinals are leading the pack right now.
The Mineral Area men are undefeated and ranked seventh in the country and are one of seven undefeated teams remaining in the Top 25 rankings.
The Cardinals are fifth in the country in shooting percentage (54.2), second in free-throw percentage (78.6), third in assists per game (23.9), third in points per game allowed (59.5) and eighth in steals per game (14.1).
“I think we’re going to have to come with our best game. We’ve got to have several guys playing really well,” Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said. “They just have continued to get better and we’ve got to prove that we belong in this region.”
The Cardinals are led by a pair of freshman guards in Angelo Stuart and Keyyaun Batchman.
Stuart is leading the team with 16.3 points and is shooting 56.5% from the field.
Batchman is scoring 12.7 points on 58.1% shooting to go with 4.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
Gabe O’Neal, Malevy Leons and Kevin Legardy are also all scoring in double figures and only Legardy is shooting under 50% from the field. Only Ja’Quaye James, who is averaging 9.3 points, is shooting under 45% from the field among the entire roster and seven different Cardinals are scoring between 9 and 12 points per game.
The Cardinals are similarly balanced on 3-point shooting. They only make 7.6 per game, putting them 105th in the country, but seven different Cardinals are attempting at least two 3-pointers per game and only James is making at least two 3-pointers per game.
James leads the team with 5.5 attempts from beyond the arc per game but is making 36.4%. Only Tristian Mullins, who is has started 2 of 17 games this season, is shooting more than 40% on 3-pointers.
Mineral Area as a team is shooting 36% on 3-pointers.
The Cardinals have won every game by double digits but have not played a ranked opponent.
The Raiders (10-6), meanwhile, played seventh-ranked Indian Hills, 13th-ranked Cowley, faced Vincennes in the preseason, and have played John A. Logan, who are receiving votes, twice. Half of Three Rivers’ losses are against either teams that are either ranked or receiving votes.
“That’s one of those things that’s hard to predict. We tried to schedule the best we could and we knew we overscheduled a little bit, but 10-6, we think we’ve been through the wars and we think tough competition has made us better. It will be interesting to see in retrospect how the schedule has been for Mineral Area, but that is hard to predict,” Bess said.
“There’s something to be said for winning and there’s something to be said about playing tough competition. So I think it is going to be interesting.”
Both Three Rivers and Mineral Area have faced Kennedy-King, Southwestern Illinois and Highland (Ill.).
Against Highland, which handed second-ranked Vincennes its only loss, Three Rivers won by 25 points and the next day, Mineral Area beat Highland by 18.
Three Rivers beat Southwestern Illinois by one point and the Cardinals beat them by about 20 points in two different wins in early November.
The Raiders are coming off a loss to John A. Logan, whom they also beat in November, and are 5-2 dating back to the Thanksgiving Classic.
“I think we’ve gotten better since the John A. Logan game and I think it is going to be a good challenge for us. We hope we’re ready to compete and I think we are,” Bess said.
In the Raiders’ two losses since Thanksgiving, they shot less than 35% in both and were a combined 7 for 38 on 3-pointers.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic