ST. LOUIS -- Black Friday, Christmas vacation plans, presents, families, finals. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a minefield of distractions for the mostly teenaged Raiders, who tip-toed past the first of three hurdles Sunday.
The past two years, Three Rivers College has been a .500 team in games between Thanksgiving and Christmas and both times the stretch started with a two-point loss to Southwestern Illinois College.
Once again meeting in neutral territory at St. Louis Community College, SWIC didn't make a field goal in the final 4 minutes and Three Rivers won 65-59.
"I think that's about as good as we played. The last 4 minutes we really locked in and that's the way we are going to have to play to beat these better teams," said Three Rivers coach Gene Bess, now with 1,242 wins. "This is always a tough time of the year to get fired up and be ready to beat a good team."
The Blue Storm's final bucket was a layup by Darrin Jenkins with 4 1/2 minutes to play that cut the Raiders' lead to two.
Three Rivers (11-1) pushed it to five points with a free throw from Camron Reedus and a jumper by KaJuan Christon, but SWIC (5-5) added four free throws and reduced it to a point with 38 seconds left.
Reedus dished to Aidan Saunders for the final three of his 14 points and the Raiders called time to get in a defensive substitution in Christon and Mamadou Diakhaby.
The move worked.
Christon blocked Asante Patterson's jumper with 10 seconds to go and grabbed the ball.
Reedus drew the quick foul and set the final score with a pair of free throws, giving him 12 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Gabe Grant returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench for three games and led the Raiders with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Sadaeys Miller also got his first start of the season and played 20 minutes.
"Sadaeys has really stepped up and put pressure on the opposing ball handler and he has done a good job in his role," Bess said. "Our defense starts with pressure on the ball and those two guys (Miller and Christon), when they do their job it helps us play better defense."
SWIC leaned on its starting five with heavy minutes. Three played more than 35 minutes and sixth man Luke Davis also played more than 30.
Four players got off the bench for less than 4 minutes and other than Davis, who played starters' minutes, the bench had five points.
"They had two really good players and then they had some players who blended in well. They were a nice team for their record," Bess said. "Those coaches up there are going to be tough to beat later on in the year."
Three Rivers got 25 points from its bench, led by Saunders' 14.
"Aidan has been picking us up offensively and he has been making improvements defensively," Bess said.
While Reedus and Grant both played more than 30 minutes, seven others got at least 15.
There were 12 ties and five lead with the biggest lead being six points.
Three Rivers scored the first five and then gave up a 12-2 run. It was the biggest deficit the Raiders would face all game and they tied it up inside 3 minutes thanks to a 3 from Reedus and a jumper by Saunders.
The Raiders retook the lead with 5 minutes left in the first half, lost it, and went into the break down by three.
They didn't go ahead for good until Daniel Soetan's free throws with 6 1/2 to play.
SWIC made to field goals after that, but kept close thanks to 90 percent fee-throw shooting.