POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. - It took about 6 minutes for Three Rivers to take care of business.
Looking to stay atop the Region XVI standings, the Raiders jumped out to a 17-2 lead against Mineral Area before going on to win 78-50 Saturday at the Libla Family Sports Complex.
"Kind of an emphasis all week to come out strong in the first quarter, come out and make a statement, come out and make sure we were aggressive on both sides of the basketball and just be ready to play," said Three Rivers coach Jeff Walk, highlighting that the Raiders allowed nine points in the first quarter and six in the third. "We can guard and sometimes we can shoot the ball really well. You want to come out and take out any hope they have that they might be able to play with you and I think we accomplished that in the first quarter."
Six weeks after outlasting Mineral Area for a 96-92 win at Park Hills, the Raiders perpetually led by double digits after the 5-minute mark of the first quarter.
"We were just all ready to play. Our mindset was right and we were ready to go," Mosby said. "Everybody was just knocking down their shots, hitting the open person and making the extra pass."
The Raiders went on to lead 27-9 after the first quarter, 41-22 at the half and 61-28 after the third quarter.
Thurmon finished with her fourth double-double of the season. She had 11 points, all in the first half, and 10 rebounds. Yelder led the Raiders with 13 points to go with three rebounds and two assists. Deanay Watson had 11 points, three rebounds and three steals and Jamiyah Thomas had 11 points and four rebounds.
Fifty points are the second-fewest points Mineral Area has scored in a game this season. Their lowest is 46 points in a loss to Kirkwood and they also scored 50 points in a loss to Northwest Mississippi.
"We haven't played our best game. We've gotten close a couple of times. Defensively we keep getting better and better," Walk said. "Not only can we score, when we really set our mind to it, we will guard you."
Saturday also marked the seventh time in eight games that the Raiders, who are third in the country in points per game, have allowed fewer than 60 points. Three Rivers went into Saturday's game allowing 62.7 points per game, 71st in the country.
"The kids are understanding things a lot better and this is the time of the year to start fine-tuning things," Walk said.
With one game left in the regular season, at home Saturday against Crowder, the Raiders rank in the top-10 nationally 10 different categories (points, points per game, field goals per game, field goal attempts per game, 3s per game, 3-point attempts per game, defensive rebounds per game, rebound margin per game, assists per game).
The Raiders rank outside of the top-100 in just three categories, turnovers (18.5), personal fouls (19.1) and free-throw percentage (63.8).
Three Rivers (24-5, 8-1 Region XVI), ranked 25th in the latest NJCAA poll, has steadily gotten better results in each meeting against Mineral Area (17-9 4-4). The Cardinals sank a shot in the final seconds to beat Three Rivers 61-60 in the Region XVI Showdown back in November. Then in early January, Three Rivers' depth and conditioning won out for a 96-92 win in what was a track meet in Park Hills.
Six weeks later, with Three Rivers enjoying seven home games out of nine total to finish the regular season, the Raiders comfortably dispatched Mineral Area from pretty much the jump.
While Three Rivers currently holds a half-game lead in the region standings on Moberly Area, which beat State Fair on Saturday, the Greyhounds are in a position to eclipse the Raiders for the top seed in the Region XVI tournament.
Both teams have one loss in the region standings, against each other with the home team winning both times.
Three Rivers must still play Crowder and Moberly must still play Crowder and Jefferson. But should both teams win out, Moberly will win the tiebreaker due to its winning percentage against non-region, Division I opponents.
The Raiders are 7-2 in those games with losses to Wabash Valley and Wallace State, both currently ranked in the top-20. Moberly is 6-1 with a loss against Wabash Valley. Though their record is technically even with Three Rivers playing two extra games in a more difficult schedule, Moberly would earn the tiebreaker because of its higher winning percentage.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic