POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. - Three Rivers beat Link Year Prep 87-69 after a strong second half where it went from trailing to leading by 21 in the span of 10 minutes, but it ended with one of Three Rivers' most important pieces being taken away in an ambulance.
Sophomore Dominique Hardimon took a hard foul with 3 minutes left in the game, and his upper body hit hard against the platform of the basketball goal.
"Dr. (Dean) Dye thinks he's going to be OK, but he didn't want to take any chances," Three Rivers coach Brian Bess said. "(Dye) said he thought he kind of twisted his neck or something on the play. And one of the refs thought his head had flown back, and he hit the back of his head, but Dr. Dye didn't think that happened. They don't know if he lost consciousness or anything, but I do know he wanted to get up. That was part of the problem that he wanted to get up, and they wanted him to lie down and wait for the ambulance."
After being attended to by Three Rivers staff and medical personnel who were in attendance for several minutes, Three Rivers staff called for an ambulance.
Before its arrival, the Three Rivers players and cheerleaders huddled around Hardimon and his family in a show of support, and he was soon put on a stretcher and taken to an ambulance.
"We were letting him know we've got his back, and we love him. He's not in it alone, and he's going to be OK," Three Rivers' Kevin Jones said. "I was just scared. Knowing Dom, he's a tough guy, he don't get hurt for real. He plays through things. Seeing him not be able to bounce back up kind of shook us a lot."
Hardimon, a Poplar Bluff alum, finished with 19 points and eight rebounds on 6 for 10 shooting. He was 7 for 9 on free throws and had a team-high five offensive rebounds.
"He was a warrior tonight. He played hard, and he was going after every rebound," Bess said. "We got outrebounded really bad, but he got after it."
The Raiders committed nine turnovers compared to 25 by Link Year and were plus-14 in points off turnovers.
"If we can do that, we are going to give ourselves a lot of chances," Bess said. "We got to playing really hard for a little stretch there, and things started going in."
The Lions grabbed eight more rebounds and three more offensive rebounds and were plus-12 on points in the paint but minus-3 on second-chance points.
Lamar Wilkerson led the Raiders with 22 points after going 4 for 8 on 3-pointers and 6 for 17 overall. He also had four steals and three assists.
Teafale Lenard, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, put Link Year ahead in the early going with seven of the team's first nine points.
The Lions led by as much as six early before the Raiders methodically took the lead.
Wilkerson, averaging 26.5 points, scored to tie the game at 20 with 9 minutes left in the half. A minute later, Maurice Welfare-Harris drove and put the Raiders in front for the first time.
Link Year tied it up again at 22 and 24, then got called twice for goaltending, sandwiched around a pair of free throws by Wilkerson to put the Raiders ahead by six.
After some back and forth scoring in the closing minutes, Kinyon Hodges drove and tried for a layup at the buzzer that would have sent the Raiders into the locker room with a seven-point lead, but it bounced off the rim a couple of times and missed, leaving Three Rivers ahead 39-34 at the break.
The Lions retook the lead early in the second half with a 10-2 run. Soon after, Wilkerson scored for another lead change, the third of the game at that point.
Hardimon scored back-to-back with 10 minutes remaining to put the Raiders ahead by six, then Keith Kiner laid in a finger roll and got a putback to give Three Rivers the first double-digit lead of the game with 8 minutes remaining.
Kiner, who had 12 points and seven rebounds, grabbed a long rebound to start a fast break, and Brahm Harris, returning after missing two games with an ankle injury, finished through contact before Link Year called a timeout. Harris would finish with 11 points off the bench.
A few minutes later, Wilkerson buried a second-chance 3 to balloon the lead to 16.
The Raiders added a few free throws off a foul in the bonus plus a technical, and Wilkerson sank an NBA-length 3 to put the Raiders ahead by 21, the biggest lead of the night.
"It shows that we can beat anybody. (Link Year) is a great team," Jones said. "They went into (Moberly) and beat them by double digits. It shows they're a great team, but we're a great team, as well."
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic