A three-game win streak may have ended Friday night the Three Rivers College men's basketball team, but not before the host Raiders learned a few more things about themselves.
Playing host to the second day of the Bank of Grandin Thanksgiving Tournament at the Libla Family Sports Complex, the Raiders battled the nation's 12th-ranked squad, the Northeast Mississippi Tigers. Despite battling tooth and nail, the Raiders fell 83-76.
Three Rivers (5-5), which fell to 0-3 against nationally-ranked opposition, was led by Hosane Kitenge and Lamont Jackson as each scored 16 points, Makur Jongkuch added 15, Jordan Hamilton scored 11 and Mo Niang added 10. Jackson and Jongkuch each had eight rebounds.
The Raiders shot 44 percent for the game, but only 27 percent from behind the 3-point line. They outrebounded the Tigers 38-28.
"They had some good athletes," Three Rivers head coach Brian Bess said. "I thought when the shot is not going down, you have to battle through that and hopefully some of our guys will learn and grow from that and still compete."
Three Rivers hosts Northeastern Oklahoma A&M at 7 p.m. Saturday to wrap the tournament. Northeast Mississippi will battle Motlow State at 5 p.m.
Three Rivers battled back within one point on three different occasions following the halftime break, but couldn't get an edge over the first eight minutes out of the locker room.
The Tigers lead fluctuated between 2-4 points for a good five minutes until a Caleb Pass trey gave them a 60-55 edge with 9:30 left in the game.
He replicated the feat about a half minute later and suddenly the Raiders faced a 63-55 hole.
After not being able to find a way to dent the deficit, Niang dropped a triple against the NEMS defense with 5:27 to pull within 68-65.
Then the Tigers pushed the advantage out by 2-3 possessions moments later and that would be enough to hold on for the win.
The Raiders got cooking early with a 13-2 run to go up 13-4 in the first four minutes as Jackson hit two triples and Niang added one for the hosts.
It was the second straight strong start for the Raiders at this event.
However, the Tigers — likely smarting from the defeat to Northeastern Oklahoma the previous evening — battled back with a 13-2 run of their own and the game was locked up four minutes later.
The Raiders cooled off and NEMS took a three-point lead but couldn't take full advantage.
In fact, several ballhandling miscues and misfires from the field allowed Three Rivers the opportunity to move to a 25-22 lead on two Niang free throws with 7:08 left in the first half.
For the remaining minutes of the first half, the offenses bogged down due to a mixture of good defense and some questionable shooting, and the Tigers built a 34-28 lead with two minutes left.
"They wanted to play fast and we ended up playing too fast, I thought," Bess said. "There is no quit in us."
The Raiders went into the half down 37-31 as they were held to 31 percent shooting and were forced into eight turnovers. Three Rivers outrebounded the Tigers 21-16.
The Tigers used a big presence in the middle to thwart and redirect a few Raider shots, blocking four.
Kitenge and Jackson led the Three Rivers efforts with nine and eight points each after the first 20 minutes.
Earlier Friday, Northeastern Oklahoma beat Motlow State 92-79 to move to 2-0 in the tournament.
Alan Dale - Daily American Republic