Between a fast start and a late push, it looked like the second game of the season for the Three Rivers College men's basketball team Friday night. The Raiders led wire to wire in an 89-71 win over Link Year Prep at the Bess Activity Center after an opening 15-2 run. "We jumped out to a little start and we're not very mature yet" Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said. "We just didn't play well. "Then it was a struggle the rest of the night."
The Raiders (2-0) fouled Link Year early and often as the Lions sank 20 of 26 free throws to rally to within seven at halftime. "We had 19 fouls in the first half, which is crazy," said Gabe Grant, who picked up three fouls but finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three steals. Camron Reedus scored the first eight points of the game and ended up with 20 to go with four assists, four rebounds and four steals to lead Three Rivers. He was one of seven Raiders with multiple fouls by halftime. As a freshman, Grant fouled out just once. He had three fouls by the half coming off the bench. "I've been in trouble these first two games so I'm trying to choose and pick my spots on when I want to be aggressive on defense or how I'm going to play," he added.
One area Three Rivers looks to improve on is defending the 3-point shot without fouling. Four different Raiders fouled a 3-point shooter, including a pair in the final 68 seconds of the half. "I tried to tell them don't foul the 3-point shooters," Bess said. "That just doesn't make a lick of sense. But they were acting like if they didn't get out there and block their shot then they were going to hit it." The Lions were actually 3 of 10 from 3-point range in the first half and 7 for 20 overall. They sank 9 of 12 at the foul line in those four trips. "You can't block a 3-point shooter's shot, there's no way," Bess said. "Just check it and wish for the best." After a hot start, Three Rivers shot 37.1 percent from the field but held the Lions to 34.5 percent shooting while scoring 12 more points off turnovers and six more second-chance points. The Raiders gave up one field goal in the opening 8 1/2 minutes of the second half but only added three points to their 50-43 halftime lead. Reedus converted a reverse layin off a baseline drive but the Lions quickly answered with a fastbreak basket to stay within 70-60 with just over eight minutes remaining. Three Rivers scored the next six points by getting five consecutive stops on defense, a point of emphasis for this team, Grant said. "We always have a thing we try to get five stops," Grant said. "Every time we get a fifth stop let's get another five. Trying to get consecutive stops. "We've got that policy. We're just trying to win." Reedus tipped a pass for a steal and Grant followed with another stolen pass leading to a free throw and a 76-60 lead with 5 1/2 minutes left.
Link Year's drought ended at the free-throw line but it was the seventh team foul for Three Rivers after nearly 15 minutes. Through the first five minutes, the Raiders had more fouls (8) than field goals (5) but had built an 18-4 lead. Three Rivers didn't allow a field goal until the 13:42 mark before going ahead 20-6. The Lions put together a 14-6 run after that to get within six, but Terrence Parker sank a pair of free throws then stole a pass leading to two more. Link Year later scored nine straight, capped by a fastbreak 3 from Rylan Bergersen, who scored a team-high 16, and two free throws that cut the Raiders lead to 35-32. Grant's offensive rebound off a missed free throw on the ensuing possession reset the offense and he knocked down a 3 from up top. "Did a good job of rebounding early, got about everything that came off, but we don't have those big guys on the boards like we did last year," Bess said. Link Year, which lost to Mineral Area in the season opener by 20 and beat Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, rallied again at the line with seven straight free throws. KaJuan Christon's catch-and-shoot 3 in the final minute put the Raiders up 48-41 but Link Year was sent to the line shooting a 3 to end the half. "We did that a lot tonight," Grant said. "I don't know what that was about, we were overaggressive or overexcited. We were blocking shots for a minute, you starting going for everything."