With the game in hand in the final minute, Aidan Saunders got back-to-back dunks that gave him a team-high 25 points and gave the Raiders 100.
The first dunk was easy. He got loose on offense, sprung up and slammed it. The second, he jumped a pass and had an open runway to the basket. Saunders took flight … and started to worry.
"I almost got hung," he said. "The first one took me by surprise, I just sprung up. But the second one, there was so much momentum built up, I was kind of confused as to what I wanted to do and then I got too caught up once I jumped. It just barely went in.
"The last time (I got stuffed by the rim) was a couple of months ago at an open gym. There were a couple college coaches in the building. I had a break away and got hung off of two feet. It was bad. I fell and everything. It was pretty bad. You win some, you lose some."
He won that one and in doing so, set the final score in a 100-72 season-opening win against Lincoln Trail on Tuesday at the Bess Activity Center.
"He played well offensively," Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said of Saunders. "He's trying to find his role, but he had a good game tonight for sure."
After a back and forth first half, the Raiders dominated the opening of the second.
"We didn't come out fired up, ready to play. It's an early game and the whole season is a process," said Bess, now with 1,232 wins.
Camron Reedus drilled a corner 3 on the Raiders' first possession of the second half to put them up by eight, their biggest lead up to that point.
Soon after, point guard Ronnie Carson dropped his mouth guard on the court while dribbling up the floor, embraced the 5-second rule and put it back in his mouth, then passed to Grant in the corner who put Three Rivers up by nine.
Saunders made it 12 points, Reedus added another, then drove for a layup and it was 17.
Grant drove the dagger deep with a four-point play, and the Raiders added two more quick buckets for a 25-5 flurry in the first 7 minutes of the second half.
"We were containing their point guard better. We thought that was about the biggest problem we had the first half," Bess said. "(Carson and KaJuan Christon) are capable of guarding that point guard, but they didn't play well that first half. I think that was as much a difference as anything else."
The Raiders held the Statesmen scoreless for the final 4 minutes of the run. Three Rivers' lead hovered around 20 points after that.
"It all comes down to my heart and my pride," Carson said. "The coaches told me I can stick it out and get through it and make sure everybody was with their man. I pressured them, tried to get them motivated to guard their man. I had to do my job."
The shooting percentages flipped in the second half for both teams. The Raiders improved 12 percent, the Statesmen declined 12 percent.
"We think they should be our key. That's the difference between us and some of the other teams. We've got good big men back up the middle and both of them had a pretty good game tonight against a pretty good team," Bess said of Pippen and Parker. "It is conceivable that we could play them both at the same time, but they both have a little weakness at the defensive end of the court."
Grant, with 11 points, was the fifth Raider in double figures.
The biggest lead in the first half was seven points, and it took the Raiders nearly the whole 20 minutes to get there.
There were four lead changes and six ties before Saunders sank one of his four 3s. After a couple minutes of back and forth play, he hit another, then added a 2 with 30 seconds left to put Three Rivers ahead 48-41.
Despite the close play, Three Rivers trailed for less than 90 seconds in the first half.
They lost the lead 6 minutes in, then Parker hit a couple free throws and Reedus sank a 3 on the following possession.
Two Statesmen free throws put them ahead by two just inside the 11 minute mark, but then Reedus drove baseline on the next possession and converted the three-point play.
The best Lincoln Trail could muster after that was one more tie with 6 minutes to go.