Heading into his 47th postseason, Three Rivers College coach Gene Bess is wondering if it will be his last. The longtime Raiders coach picked up his 1,254th win Saturday in the regular-season finale at the Bess Activity Center — a 98- 89 victory over On-Point Academy — then admitted increasingly thinking about retirement. "If I'm not back, I'll have two assistant coaches who are as good or better than I am, which is what I had this year," Bess said. "I would not be concerned if I were our fans because we are going to be all right for a few years to come as long as we keep doing what we are doing now. "The president and I have talked quite a bit. I'm at the age now with this ol' leg and a lot of other things that it has really been tough," Bess continued. "It really has bothered me. I'm so pleased that I have got great people around me … we've just got great people and as long as we've got that, they take the burden off of me."
The winningest college basketball coach of all time had missed two games in his career coming into the season, but missed three straight games in February because of knee pain, and then recovery time from the subsequent surgery. While away, Brian Bess, in his 24th season as the assistant coach, and Bryan Sherrer, in his third season, handled things. "It is supposed to take some time and it is taking some time. It is going on four weeks. I will start doing some therapy but right now it hurts. It hurts just like before I had (surgery)," Gene Bess said. "I've got all kinds of confidence in the fact that it is going to get well." Bess was recently designated "Legend" status by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, and had a bust made in his honor to stand alongside Missouri greats. "Everybody knows Coach Gene is a legend, the best junior college basketball coach of all time," Three Rivers sophomore Camron Reedus said. "He's going to be there regardless of whether we win or lose. Nobody is ever going to get as many wins as him. I'm just glad he allowed me to play for him for two years."
The Raiders (23-7) started their regular-season finale looking like they were going to blow out OnPoint Academy in a similar fashion to the last time the two teams met, when Three Rivers won 98-60. "Last year we played them early in the year and they weren't that good. This year they came in with some Division I players on the team," Bess said. Three Rivers opened with a 14-2 run in the first five minutes and had a pair of dunks along the way, one by Sadaeys Miller and one by Reedus. On-Point got a putback and a dunk to get back within 10 points and after six minutes of trading buckets, the Raider offense stalled when it hit 29 points with 9 minutes left in the half. "We lost focus," said Reedus, who finished with 27 points. "We relaxed. That's our biggest problem. We were still worried about Mineral Area (in the Region XVI tournament). We've had that circled." On-Point scored nine straight to get within five points for the first time since it scored its bucket. With a minute to go, OnPoint's Cartrell Thompson finished a pick-and-roll to tie the game at 34. The Raiders scored on their final two possessions of the half to go into the locker room with a slim lead. Five minutes into the second half, Jeffery Porter, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds, got a three-point play to push the lead back to 10 points, but On-Point soon cut it in half. Three Rivers' lead was still five points with 5 minutes to go. Three Rivers forced shot clock violations on two possessions in a row, and got buckets at the other end from Porter and Daniel Soetan to rebuild a 10-point lead. Then a blocking call against the Raiders got Bess on his feet chewing the refs for the first time in the game. On-Point started trapping down 10 points with 3 minutes to play, but never got within eight points late. "I didn't think six players could stay with us, but they did," Bess said. "The main thing that happened is we made a lot of little mistakes, but we fought through them pretty good. Now is a good time to do that. Next week is not a good time to do that." Aidan Saunders added 16 points for Three Rivers, Mamadou Diakhaby had 15 and Kavion Pippen got 10. The Raiders play No. 11 Mineral Area in the semifinals of the Region XVI Tournament at 8 p.m. Friday at the Jason Gym in Jefferson City, and could face No. 10 Moberly Area in the championship.