With Saturday's win, the Three Rivers men's basketball team swept all three games in the Peoples Community Bank Thanksgiving Classic for the second time in six seasons. The Raiders, who beat Hocking College (Ohio) on Thursday and Tennessee Prep on Friday, improved to 6-2 with an 81-68 win over Northeastern Oklahoma A&M on Saturday at the Bess Activity Center. "We played a little better each game," said Three Rivers coach Gene Bess, who now has 1,262 wins over 48 seasons at Three Rivers. "We expect to (win all three). We expect to build on this and win one game at a time. That's the thing about sports. You are only as good as your next game." There were five lead changes and a tie before Three Rivers jumped ahead with a 13-3 run. Tied at 15, Aidan Saunders put Three Rivers ahead for good with a baseline jumper. After a NEO free throw, Ludy Kayouloud caught an outlet pass from Jeffery Porter and threw down a dunk that broke the shot clock above the backboard. "I feel pretty good. That means I play hard, I'm trying to get better every day," Kayouloud said. Three Rivers equipment manager Willie Hilburn fixed the loose plug in the shot clock at halftime. After the Parisian's jam, Saunders sank a 3. Then Willie Lucas, who finished with 12 points after coming off his best game of the season, added a three-point play and a 3-pointer to put the Raiders ahead by 10, their biggest lead of the fi rst half. NEO (8-3), down seven at the half, was back within one possession after 5 minutes in the second half. Cameron Maddox ended the moderate run with a 3. Kayouloud followed with a pair of free throws and Maddox's bucket near the 12-minute mark rebuilt the double-digit lead. NEO didn't get within one possession again and Three Rivers led by as much as 16 in the closing minutes. "The bench, a lot of effort coming from the bench. We need to rotate, we need to communicate on defense. We need to come together," Kayouloud said. Porter had 16 points, 11 rebounds and five assists to lead the Raiders in all three categories. It was his first double-double of the season. "I thought Porter really came to play," Bess said. The 6-foot point guard is averaging 5.5 rebounds and is third on the team in rebounding behind Kayouloud and Keiondre Jefferson, who are both 6-foot-7. Saunders added 14 points to give the Raiders three players in double figures. Kayouloud picked up his third foul in the first half and his fourth with more than 13 minutes left in the game and went to the bench. Five minutes later, fellow post man Jefferson picked up his third. Kayouloud eventually fouled out with 2 minutes remaining with eight points and 11 rebounds in 19 minutes. "I need to be more careful with what I am doing. I need to go in and box my man out, really try to be smarter on the defensive end," Kayouloud said.
Jefferson, who never picked up his fourth foul, added seven points and two rebounds. Along with Corey Bowen, Three Rivers' trio of post men finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Each played roughly 19 minutes. Three Rivers committed 21 fouls, matching a season high. NEO finished 21 for 27 on free throws (77.8) percent. The Raiders, meanwhile, were 18 for 21 at the foul line (85.7 percent). "I didn't feel like foul trouble was a bit of a problem tonight. I just wanted to see some people stop those runouts," Bess said. The Norsemen grabbed just six offensive rebounds and had two second chance points as the Raiders finished plus-10 on the boards. "We're doing some things better and that's the name fo the game," Bess said. "I wish we wouldn't have scheduled so tough early." Three Rivers also won all three Thanksgiving games during the 2015- 16 season and went on to finish 23-8. The Saturday game has been a particular trouble spot. The Raiders lost to Midland last season after winning the first two legs, and lost to NEO on a Saturday buzzer beater three years ago. In 2012, it was Northern Oklahoma Tonkawa who beat the Raiders after they won on Thursday and Friday. Due to a scheduling error, Three Rivers only played two Thanksgiving Classic games in 2013, but won them both. The Raiders have now won five straight after narrowly avoiding opening the season with a three-game losing streak, which would have been the first time Three Rivers had done so since the 1984. They have a week off before weekend road games at West Kentucky CTC and against Southwestern Illinois College at St. Louis. After playing six of their first eight games at home, the Raiders will have just two more home games over the next two months. Saunders and Lucas were named to the six player All-Classic team.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic