HARRISON, Ark. — For just the third time in 47 seasons, the Raiders had to play without their stalwart head coach on the sidelines. Aidan Saunders ultimately sank a 3 with 23 seconds left, and with it, Three Rivers College beat North Arkansas College 85-82 in Harrison, Ark. "When we scheduled them, and thought we could go down there and beat them, then we were on course. So it makes me feel pretty good to come out of there with a win," said Three Rivers coach Gene Bess, who did not make the trip because of knee pain and missed the fourth game in his 47 years coaching the Raiders. Bess added that he will have a procedure on his knee done Thursday and afterward, will be taking an undetermined amount of down time to heal. He also missed a game at Arkansas Baptist in January 2014 for an unrelated health reason.
The Raiders (17-7) were down by three points with 2 minutes to play. Ronnie Carson, who had one of his strongest games of the season Saturday, got a steal and added a pair of free throws. The Pioneers (11-11) scored before Gabe Grant, who had 16 points for the Raiders, hit a game-tying 3 with a minute left. After a timeout, North Arkansas ran the shot clock down before Jadaunte Sutton missed a jumper. Sadaeys Miller grabbed the rebound for the Raiders. Up the floor, Carson found Saunders for a 3. The Pioneers got the ball to Sutton. He missed another 3 and Miller grabbed his sixth rebound and was quickly fouled.
In the bonus with 2 seconds left, he missed the front end and Preston Groesbeck missed a desperation heave as the buzzer sounded. Carson led the Raiders in four categories with 25 points, eight rebounds, four steals and 35 minutes played. He was also second with five assists. He shot 9 for 16 from the field, 3 for 6 on 3-pointers and 4 for 4 on free throws. After red-shirting last season, Carson has been the Raiders' primary point guard for most of the season. He's started 18 of 24 games and is averaging 6.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists. His game Saturday set career highs in points (14) and steals (7).
Afterwards, Bess said it was the kind of game the team has been expecting from him for awhile. Carson said he needed to play that way every game from now on, because the coaches will expect it. And three days later, he set career highs in points, rebounds, field goals made, 3-pointers made and minutes. "I think he had 25 and has really come into his own," Bess said. "The only chance we had to beat those guys was to have something like that happen." It was the sixth time this season that Carson has scored in double figures. Saunders finished with 14 points and six assists. The Raiders shot 10 percent worse from the field than North Arkansas, but took 16 more attempts and ultimately made one more field goal. Three Rivers, which has struggled with rebounding all season, grabbed 19 more boards and 14 more offensive rebounds than the Pioneers. "They were not very big and they didn't even go to the offensive boards," Bess said. "But if you can rebound as well as we did, that is pretty healthy." North Arkansas had just two offensive boards and two second-chance points. Three Rivers played nine players and had everyone get at least two rebounds and one offensive rebound. Behind Carson's eight boards, Grant and Terrence Parker both had seven, and Jeffery Porter and Miller both six. Kavion Pippen, in his second game back after missing six games with an injury, had six points and five rebounds off the bench. Camron Reedus did not play after getting injured in Saturday's game, but Bess said he should be back in practice shortly.