The DAR enlisted the help of several people close to the Three Rivers program to compile a list of the top games in Raider history. From those games, we came up with the top 10 Raider games of all-time:
10. March 16, 1995 – Western Nebraska spoils TRCC’s title run
One of the best games in Three Rivers history turned out to be a loss.
With Sunday Adebayo, Chad Allen and Mark Kiehne, Three Rivers had what appeared to be a national championship team in the making. But the Raiders’ title hopes were ended in improbable fashion.
Western Nebraska’s Bernard Garner caught a length of the court pass with 2.1 seconds left, then turned and buried a 10-foot jumper to give the Cougars a 79-77 win in the national tournament quarterfinals.
“It was perfect,” Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said of the final play. “They executed it like it was meant to be.”
Trailing 77-75 in the final seconds, the Raiders went to Adebayo, who backed down two defenders and scored with four seconds left to tie it. Adebayo, later named an All-American, scored 14 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. He also had nine rebounds.
“He’s like Hakeem Olajuwon,” said Garner, who had 22 points for Western Nebraska. “When he gets the ball in his hands, you can’t stop him because he has that quick jumping ability. He’s the best player I’ve played against.”
After calling a timeout, the Cougars had just over 2 seconds to go the length of the court. Kweemada King lofted a pass toward Garner, who turned to his left and sank a jumper for the win.
The Raiders rebounded by beating Seward County on a Dominic Okon free throw with no time remaining the next day. Three Rivers then defeated Aquinas, Tenn., 86-75 to finish a disappointing fifth.
“This is the biggest win in our school’s history, I’ll guarantee you that,” Western Nebraska coach Soupy Campbell said. “I feel for Gene, but he has won it all out here before.”
9. March 8, 1984 – Raiders win region title at Moberly
One win away from the region title, Three Rivers faced a daunting task: win at ‘The Pit.’
Only once before had the Raiders won at Moberly, the two-time defending region champions. With a surprising lift from third-string point guard Jake Skelton, they managed to do it again.
Skelton scored a big second-half basket to keep the momentum of Three Rivers’ side, helping the Raiders win their seventh Region XVI title with a hard-fought 86-78 victory.
“This ranks as one of the biggest wins we’ve ever had,” Bess said afterwards. “It takes an outstanding effort to beat Moberly in this gym.”
Kevin Jenkins had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Raiders, who trailed 42-37 at the half. Jenkins (6-3) held his own against 6-10 Moberly forward Jon Taylor, who scored 26 before fouling out.
Moberly, which snapped the Raiders’ 83-game home winning streak to win the 1983 region title, trailed 77-76 before Brad Phillips made two free throws. After a defensive stop, Three Rivers got two more free throws from Chris Ward with 58 seconds left for a five-point lead. The advantage eventually grew to 10 points before a late Moberly basket.
Skelton, a little-used guard, was thrust into action when Phillips received a technical foul and backup Tim Norman was poked in the eye. Skelton immediately provided a spark by converting a drive to the basket to give Three Rivers a five-point lead late in the second half.
“What about Jake coming in there?” Bess said. “He’s always got his head in the game and that just about epitomizes the way this whole team plays.”
The Raiders beat Southeastern Iowa to return to the national tournament for the first time in two years. They finished seventh.
8. March 10, 1990 – Sprewell moves Raiders closer to Hutch
Latrell Sprewell already had the Raiders’ single-season scoring mark. What he really wanted was a trip to the national tournament.
Sprewell did his part to get the Raiders back to Hutch. He scored 12 of his 20 points in overtime to lead Three Rivers past Moberly 112-102 in the deciding Game 3 of the Region XVI playoff.
Sprewell passed Danny Foster on Three Rivers scoring list with 30 points in a 107-100 Game 1 victory, but he wasn’t impressed with the accomplishment.
“I’m not concerned with that,” Sprewell said. “I want to get to Hutch.”
Despite Sprewell’s 32 points in Game 2, Moberly won 91-85 to set up the decisive third game at the Jefferson College Fieldhouse.
Brian Bess’ 3-pointer at the 13:22 mark of the second half gave Three Rivers a seemingly comfortable 67-49 lead against the two-time defending region champs. But Moberly answered with a 33-14 run to take a one-point lead just eight minutes later.
Three Rivers trailed 95-93 with six seconds left. Keith Ferguson missed the front end of a one-and-one, but sophomore Jason ‘Kiwi’ McConnell grabbed the rebound and scored to send the game into overtime.
Eric Schweain and Sprewell each hit early 3-pointers in the extra period to help clinch the region title.
Ferguson had 31 points and 11 rebounds for the Raiders. Sprewell added 10 rebounds.
“What a great basketball game,” Bess said, “and what a great bunch of young men we have that hung in there to win.”
Sprewell finished the season with 1,064 points – nearly 200 more than Foster. The Raiders finished fourth in the country.
7. March 8, 1994 – ‘King Arthur’ can’t handle the heat
Arthur Long, a 6-10 center appropriately nicknamed ‘King,’ came to the Bess Activity Center as one of the nation’s top players. He left a loser.
The Raiders topped Long and Southeastern Iowa 97-91 in overtime to punch their ticket to the national tournament.
By most accounts, Three Rivers overachieved by getting to Hutch.
“I remember (assistant coach) Brian (Bess) saying, ‘I want to go to Hutch,’” Gene Bess said. “I thought that might be a lofty goal for this bunch.
“This is a perfect example of what can happen with a lot of hard work. This has to be my most gratifying season.”
With star Sunday Adebayo struggling, Three Rivers got a big game from big man Chad Allen. Allen, who had scored just 14 total points in three region games while battling stomach pains, had 13 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
Freshman Lonzell Gowdy, who reportedly was in Bess’ doghouse for skipping classes earlier in the season, scored 22 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. That offset tough nights for leading scorers Anthony Rodebush and Willie Walker, who were a combined 5-for-20 from the field.
Long, who had 18 points and four blocked shots before fouling out with two minutes left in overtime, wasn’t happy afterwards
“Some of the fouls were ridiculous,” he said. “They were baby fouls compared to what (Three Rivers) was getting away with.”
The King was also unhappy with the sultry temperatures inside the Activity Center, where combined with several hundred fans made for sweltering conditions that provided the Raiders a decisive homecourt advantage.
“I was sweating more than I’ve ever sweated before,” Long said. “I’m not using this as an excuse, but we’re just not used to this kind of heat.”
The Raiders advanced all the way to the national championship game before losing to Hutchinson, Kan.
6. March 7, 1995 – Raiders win playoff game at Indian Hills
In the five-year history of the Iowa-Missouri playoff game, no visiting team had ever won. Three Rivers broke that trend.
The Raiders traveled to Indian Hills and pulled out an 85-83 victory in what many believed was a game that decided the national champion.
Three Rivers took a two-point lead on a Sunday Adebayo free throw with 12 seconds left, then survived a potential game-winning 3-pointer and missed putback at the buzzer.
“This has to be one of the best games you’re ever going to see in junior college basketball,” Bess said. “I can’t remember feeling any better about a win.”
The game pitted two of the top players in the country in Adebayo and Indian Hills’ Johnny Taylor. Adebayo won the matchup with 19 points and six rebounds, compared to 13 for Taylor.
Brock Littles scored 15 points and sophomore Chad Allen had 14 points, six rebounds and four blocks. Dominic Okon added six points.
Three Rivers, which led by nine at the half, took an 82-79 lead on a clutch 3-pointer from Jermaine Harrington with 51 seconds left. Harrington was shooting 23 percent from downtown that season.
Indian Hills pulled within one point on two occasions but never took the lead. The Warriors were down 84-83 before Adebayo, who missed two big free throws in the national title game the previous season, hit 1-of-2. That set up the final possession, when Taylor missed his 3-point attempt and Donald Fisher’s putback rolled in and out.
“Everybody was praying,” Adebayo said of the final seconds. “If he would have made that, it would have been something else. It would have been a long night.”
Unfortunately for the Raiders, their national championship aspirations ended on Western Nebraska’s buzzer beater in the national tournament quarterfinals. Three Rivers settled for fifth place.
5. March 21, 1992 – Title No. 2
It took the biggest second-half comeback in national tournament history for Three Rivers to make it to the 1992 title game, but there was still plenty of drama left.
The Raiders’ championship contest with Butler County, Kan., featured 17 ties and eight lead changes. Neither team led by more than six points. Long-armed freshman Justin Wimmer ended the seesaw affair with a blocked shot in the final seconds, securing a 78-77 win and the program’s second national championship.
Three Rivers won its four tournament games by 10 combined points.
“I remember 1979, but it doesn’t compare to this,” Bess said. “This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had because we really had to work in all four of our games here. We’ve got to really be proud of our kids because there were so many times in the tournament that they could have folded.
“I love these guys dearly.”
There were plenty of heroes for the Raiders. Sophomore Shon-Peck Love was named tournament MVP after averaging 20 points and 6.5 rebounds in four tournament games. He scored 19 against Butler County. Brian Price went 9-for-9 from the field and 3-for-3 from the line for a team-high 21 points and Belvis Noland added 17 points.
Three Rivers took a 78-77 lead when Anthony Beane, who was 1-for-10 from the field, nailed a 3-pointer with 27 seconds left. Beane was later named Outstanding Small Player of the tournament.
Bess followed a Butler County timeout with one of his own and inserted Wimmer, a 6-7 guard. The Grizzlies inbounded the ball to Tony Nelton, who pump faked and sent Wimmer flying by. But Wimmer recovered in time to block the shot from behind as time expired.
“All I wanted to do was check his shot,” Wimmer said. “I saw him go up for the shot and I just swung at it as hard as I could, and I hit it.”
4. 1979 National Semifinal - The game was headlined by West Texas coach Nolan Richardson and future NBA player Paul Pressey, but it was Three Rivers’ Sam Weaver who stole the show.
Weaver came up with one clutch play after another, leading the Raiders past West Texas 109-103 in double overtime. One day later, Three Rivers won its first-ever national championship.
Weaver kept the Raiders alive with a basket as time expired in the first overtime, then scored the final six points in double overtime to seal West Texas’ fate. Weaver, who scored 24 of his 34 points in the second half and two overtimes, was nicknamed ‘Iceman’ for his clutch play.
“It’s just basketball. I was just playing basketball,” Weaver said. “You never win or lose until the buzzer sounds. I never think about pressure. Doing that will spook you.”
Pressey spent 10 seasons in the NBA, but he didn’t look like a pro prospect against the Raiders. Three Rivers freshman Moon McCrary, who went on to star as a defensive specialist at the University of Missouri, held Pressey to just six points.
Three Rivers, which shot 62.5 percent from the field, never trailed in regulation. But West Texas managed to it at 84-all when Dwight Williams hit a 15-foot jumper with 3 seconds left.
The Raiders trailed by two in the first overtime before Milton Woodley hit Weaver, who caught the ball with four seconds left and hit a clutch jumper.
Weaver’s basket with 1:20 left in double overtime gave Three Rivers the lead for good at 105-103. Weaver was intentionally fouled while converting a tough layin with 5 seconds left. He sank both free throws for a four-point play and a trip to the title game.
The championship game was scheduled for the following evening, but Bess didn’t seem concerned.
“They will be worn out, but I know this bunch of boys,” he said. “They will go out and bust their tails.
“We’re going to come back out here and win.”
3. March 8, 2003 – Raiders outlast MAC in three OTs
It had been seven years – the program’s longest dry spell – since Three Rivers went to the national tournament. By winning one of the most exciting games in region history, the Raiders were on their way back to Hutch.
In a matchup that resembled a heavyweight fight, Three Rivers and Mineral Area traded blow for blow in the first triple-overtime game in region history. In the end, the Raiders were victorious 113-103.
By winning a game that featured 14 ties and 26 lead changes, Three Rivers secured its 17th Region XVI title. The Raiders thumped playoff newcomer Sauk Valley three days later to qualify for the national championship, but that matchup was an afterthought after one of the wildest and most exciting games in program history.
“The good Lord really blessed us out here tonight,” Bess said. “I can’t remember a game that I thought was any bigger or more important than this one tonight.”
Third-team All-American William Durden had season highs 23 points and 13 rebounds. Freshman Dereke Tipler had 21 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists for his first career triple-double.
The madness began when region Player of the Year Joel Shelton drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key in the final seconds of regulation. The Raiders couldn’t convert a potential game-winning possession in the first overtime and Shelton missed a baseline jumper at the end of the second overtime.
Three Rivers pulled away in the third overtime by scoring eight of the first 11 points to secure their first region title since 1990.
Afterwards, fans and cheerleaders chanted, ‘We’re going to Hutch!” and Bess was hoisted on his player’s shoulders for the first time since he set the junior college coaching record for career wins in 2001.
“I shed a couple tears and people didn’t know why I was crying,” sophomore James Profit said. “I said those are tears of joy.”
2. March 20, 1992 – Raiders pull off biggest comeback in tournament history
Down 49-28 at the half to Southern Idaho, Three Rivers’ shot at a second national championship appeared to be over. But the Raiders pulled off a miracle, putting together the biggest second-half comeback in tournament history.
Using a barrage of 3-pointers, Three Rivers rallied for an improbable 76-74 victory. A two-point win against Butler County, Kan., gave the Raiders their second national championship.
“You can’t really teach the kind of character we showed in the second half,” Bess said. “We won’t take credit for that. We may foster it, but you just have to get in games like this to know how they’ll react.”
With the game tied 12-all early in the first half, Southern Idaho began pulling away with a 16-0 run that covered a span of seven minutes. The Golden Eagles ended the half with a 10-2 rally to put the Raiders in a 21-point deficit.
But Three Rivers, which shot 29 percent and was outrebounded 24-12 in the first half, slowly began chipping away at the lead. The Raiders made it a 10-point game when Justin Wimmer sank a 3 to make it 56-46 with 12:25 left. Belvis Noland, Anthony Beane, Brian Blackburn and Eric Schweain each hit 3s in the next seven minutes as Three Rivers tied it at 63 with just over five minutes left.
Brian Price nailed back-to-back turnaround jumpers during a 7-0 run that gave the Raiders their first lead at 68-67. A basket from Shon Peck-Love gave Three Rivers a five-point lead with 29 seconds left.
Peck-Love, later named tournament MVP, lead the Raiders with 17 points. Beane (13), Blackburn (12), Noland (10) and Price (10) all reached double figures.
“We never did give up,” Peck-Love said. “We were thinking to ourselves that we’ve worked too hard to go out like this.”
The Raiders didn’t, pulling off an improbable comeback en route to their second national championship.
1. March 24, 1979 – Three Rivers brings national title to Poplar Bluff
The Raiders weren’t supposed to be in the hunt for the national championship. They returned just two sophomores from the previous year, leading a local sportswriter to predict a mediocre season.
But with freshman Moon McCrary and tournament MVP Sam Weaver leading the way, the 1979 Raiders wouldn’t be denied. One day after outlasting Western Texas in double overtime, Three Rivers beat Mercer County 60-59 in overtime for the program’s first national title.
Three Rivers, which erased a 21-point halftime deficit the previous night, came back from a 14-point first-half deficit against Mercer. The Raiders won four tournament games in four consecutive days.
“I’m proud to be associated with a group of young men who could stage a comeback as we saw last night,” Bess said at a pep rally the next day. “They were physically and mentally exhausted, but they were playing on nerves and they wouldn’t quit. That’s why we’re No. 1.”
The Raiders got a little help in overtime when Mercer, leading 58-57 with 13 seconds left, inserted a substitute who was wearing the wrong jersey number. Sophomore John Rauchut, who hadn’t played the entire tournament, checked in for leading scorer Daryl Devero when he picked up his fifth foul. But Rauchut was wearing No. 54, not the 52 listed in the scorebook. The mistake gave Three Rivers a technical free throw that allowed the Raiders to tie the score.
“During the early games in December, his uniform was stolen,” Mercer coach Arch Freeman said. “We gave him a new uniform. We never thought about it and never put it on this (NJCAA registration form).”
Following Robert Kirby’s free throw that tied it at 58, the Vikings committed another costly miscue. Thinking his team was behind, Freeman instructed his players to foul. They did, sending Milton Woodley to the free throw line with 10 seconds left. He made both.
Mercer had one last opportunity when Jeff Rocke was fouled in the final seconds. After making the first free throw, Rocke, who was 8-for-11 at the line, missed the second.
“I was calling on the good Lord to help us any way He could,” Bess said. “I’m not proud. I wanted all the help I could get. The kid had hit so many free throws, I was almost ready to believe we were going into double overtime.
McCrary scored 19 points, including a jumper with 20 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. Weaver had 15 and Kirby added 10.
Afterwards, Freeman took responsibility for his team’s loss.
“I lost the championship for us,” he said. “The officials did what the rule said about he jersey number. My only regret is that I cost my players the national championship.”
Recent honorable mentions:
2010: The Raiders reached the NJCAA national championship game, losing 85-80 in overtime to Howard (Texas).
2012: Just 16 days after losing by 17 points at Highland (Ill.), the Raiders punch their ticket to Hutch by beating Highland 103-79 at the Bess Activity Center.
2017: The Raiders won the Region XVI championship with an 85-58 win over a short-handed Moberly Area team.
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