After a slow start for the second game in a row, the Three Rivers women's basketball team again found its form halfway through the first quarter and never looked back.
The Raiders, who went into Wednesday's game third in the country in points per game (89.5), went on to beat Jefferson 78-58 at the Libla Family Sports Complex.
Three Rivers (19-5, 5-1 Region XVI) trails only Vincennes (90.4) and Wabash Valley (93.8) in points per game this season. The Raiders had scored at least 84 points in their previous five games and have scored more than 100 points six times. They scored a season-high 114 points in an 86-point win over Lindenwood-Belleville JV and were held to a season-low 60 points in a one-point loss to Mineral Area on Nov. 22 in the Region XVI Showdown. In their five losses, the Raiders were held to 81 or fewer points.
Wednesday was also the third straight game and 10th time this season where Three Rivers has held an opponent to fewer than 60 points.
"We recruit kids who can score, and it starts from there," Three Rivers coach Jeff Walk said. "Every one of those kids can score and we knew that coming in. We don't just recruit five kids who can score. We want 10-11 or however many we have on the bench."
With Wednesday's win, Three Rivers stays a half game ahead of Moberly Area, which beat Crowder 108-70 on Wednesday, in the Region XVI standings. The Raiders also hold the tiebreaker against the Greyhounds due to their winning percentage against non-region Division I opponents.
The Raiders are now 2-0 at home and 3-1 on the road in their region schedule. They next host State Fair at 5 p.m. Saturday. Three Rivers' only remaining region road game is Feb. 8 at Jefferson. The Raiders will then host Mineral Area and Crowder over the following two Saturdays to finish the regular season.
Jordan Little had her first double-double as a Raider with 18 points and 10 rebounds to go with five assists and three steals.
"We all boxed out better as a team, so I was just able to run through the middle and grab the ball more," said Little, who added it might be the first double-double of her life. "It's a great experience. I couldn't have done it without my team."
The sophomore point guard is averaging 11.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists and scored a season-high 21 points in a 96-92 win against Mineral Area.
The Three Rivers bench was again key as it outscored the Jefferson bench 21-2. The Raiders were also plus-15 in points of turnovers and plus-eight in second-chance points.
Three Rivers committed just 11 turnovers, one more than its season-low they set in a 19-point win against John A. Logan. In their four previous region wins, Three Rivers had committed at least 18 turnovers.
"That's why we won by 20. If we would have had 17 (turnovers), that's a six-point game," Walk said.
The Raiders scored four points through the first 5 minutes of the game. A similar start to this past Saturday's game against Moberly Area where the Raiders scored five points through the first six minutes.
"We try to be consistent on everything we do all year long," Walk said. "It's what their expectations are of each other and what they expect the other team to do. And when they stop doing that, that's when we'll be really good."
While Three Rivers was only down by more than five points early against Moberly, Jefferson was able to take an 11-point lead thanks to a trio of 3-pointers, including back-to-back 3s from Tyra Brown, who led Jefferson with 25 points, 12 rebounds, five offensive rebounds and six assists to go with seven turnovers.
But then both the Three Rivers offense and defense got into a rhythm.
"The Moberly game, we were just ready to play," said Three Rivers' Myia Yelder, who had a team-high 19 points and set a new season high with 33 minutes. "Jeff Co, we came off a big win, we were probably a little laid back and not as intense or aggressive as we needed to be. We were going through the motions. There was no intensity until we got a timeout and got chewed out."
The defense held the Vikings (11-11, 2-2) to two points over the next seven minutes while the offense put up 17 points in the closing 5 minutes of the first quarter and had a 10-point lead less than 2 minutes into the second.
"Anybody can win on any given night," Little said. "Everybody's going to give us their best game and we just have to go harder."
Yelder had back-to-back layups to tie the game at 15.
Hannah Thurmon, who had 13 points and eight rebounds, grabbed a rebound and threw a 3/4 court pass for an easy layup for Yelder, and then with the defense set up, Yelder drove and finished at the rim to tie the game.
Katelyn South gave the Raiders the lead for good when she sank a 3 with 1 1/2 minutes left, and Little followed that with a basket to put Three Rivers ahead 21-17 after the first quarter.
South scored again to put Three Rivers ahead by 10, and with under a minute left in the first half, Kalyssa Hollis made a jumper to put the Raiders ahead by 20.
"We all have the expectation that we are going to shoot one shot and be up 20. We forget that it is a process," Walk said. "Until we get out of that mindset that we are going to shoot one shot and be up 20 immediately, this is going to happen. There is no rhyme or reason. Teams that press, this is a byproduct of those teams.
With seconds left in the half, Autumn Dodd caught an inbounds pass for a wide-open layup that gave the Raiders a 19-point lead at the break.
Jefferson was able to cut the lead to eight points with under 3 minutes left in the third quarter, but then Mosby and Little swished back-to-back 3s and Three Rivers would go into the fourth quarter ahead by 12.
Mosby went on to get 12 points and seven rebounds.
Before the game, players and coaches gathered at center court for a moment of silence in honor of Kobe Bryant and eight people who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday. Three Rivers put 24 seconds on the shot clock, a reference to Bryant's jersey number, and held the moment of silence until time expired and the buzzer sounded.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic