POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Sometimes there just aren't enough rocks.
Three Rivers rallied from 19 points down in the second half before losing 78-76 on Saturday at the Bess Activity Center.
"I think if we had another 3-4 minutes we might have gotten this one," Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said. "We have some great kids. They are going to stay in there and battle, and that is what we saw tonight."
West Plains was up by 10 with 40 seconds left when Cameron Maddox hit a quick 3 and the Raiders fouled West Plains big man Yannis Mendy. He missed the front end of the bonus and Willie Lucas stepped into and NBA 3 that cut the lead to four with 11 seconds to go.
The Grizzlies got the inbounds to Ricky Torres, a 72 percent free-throw shooter, and he also missed the front end.
The Raiders raced up the floor and Chris Stocks sank a floater with four seconds left. The Grizzlies quickly inbounded the ball to Eric Lovett, who was open and two seconds burned off before the Raiders chased him down and fouled.
Lovett also missed the front end and Ludy Kayouloud grabbed the defensive rebound, but the Grizzlies tipped his outlet pass out of bounds as time expired.
"First of all, I said 'I hope we get the rebound' because we've had trouble rebounding the whole year," Stocks said. "Second of all, I said 'Just get the ball to somebody open.' I thought Ludy was going to throw the ball to me because I was semi-open, but he went the other way."
"Porter is going to give it 110 (percent) every night. Stocks played well, Willie played well. Ludy finally got to playing well," Bess said. "For the most part, it wasn't a total team effort and you are not going to beat a team like this unless you go out there and play together."
Three Rivers (9-15, 1-6 Region XVI) had 24 bench points to the Grizzlies' 13. Playing a short bench rotation, only seven Grizzlies played more than 10 minutes. Niekie Thomas led the team with 25 points over 34 minutes and Torres had 20 points over 35 minutes.
The Raiders fell behind by double digits in the first six minutes of the game before eventually tying it up near the seven minute mark.
Down 18-8, Chucky Wilson got Three Rivers' second basket in more than three minutes with an up-an-under layup.
Lucas followed with a 3-pointer and Corey Bowen slammed home a fast break to get the Raiders back within one possession. After a West Plains basket, Bowen got another dunk and Keiondre Jefferson got a putback to tie the game.
The Raiders went ahead 24-22, their first and only lead of the game, when Porter scored inside the five minute mark. They were down a point with three minutes to play, and then the Grizzlies closed the first half with a 12-2 run to take a 39-28 lead into halftime.
"Coach says it every day, be tough, take care of the ball, don't make mistakes, limit turnovers. Just play with some patience. I think a lot of times we force shots when we don't need to," Stocks said.
A late bucket by Lucas with 30 seconds left was Three Rivers' only points in the final three minutes of the half.
West Plains (21-6, 3-3 Region XVI) then pushed its lead to 19 with 12 minutes left in the game.
"They got behind and each one of them took turns trying to go 1-on-4. We lost our team concept is how I saw it. There is just not a whole lot you can do on the bench when your team gets rattled, and we got rattled," Bess said. "We had a great scouting report on them, we just had some guys who came to play and some didn't."
Three Rivers called a timeout and scored six straight out of the break before the Grizzlies, ahead 57-44 with more than 10 minutes left, called their own timeout.
A few minutes later, Stocks drove for a three-point play and Saunders drove and sank a bank shot in traffic to cut the deficit to nine points.
However, Torres followed that with a 3 and a layup for the Grizzlies. Then Dontell Brown was fouled on a dunk attempt and his free throw put West Plains ahead by 15 with five minutes left.
Three Rivers got the lead back to nine over the next couple minutes and with three minutes remaining, Stocks caught an inbounds pass and sank an open 3. It was the first time the Raiders were within two possessions in the second half.
"The way we played at the end of the second half was really picture perfect. We played together, we got good looks, we were patient. We just had too many turnovers early on. That has kind of been happening the past three or four games," Stocks said. "We'll get in a hole and we'll have to fight back."
With the loss, Three Rivers must win out the rest of the regular season, and then reach the Region XVI championship game to avoid the first losing season in Bess' 48 seasons at Three Rivers.
With one region game left, at home against Mineral Area on Feb. 17, the Raiders will be either the No. 4 or No. 5 seed and are locked into a play-in game.
The Grizzlies' win moved them into third place. They are now a half game ahead of State Fair and two games ahead of Three Rivers.
It is still mathematically possible for Three Rivers to host the play-in game against State Fair.
State Fair would have to lose its remaining three Region XVI games, Three Rivers would have to beat Mineral Area on Feb. 17 in the Raiders' final Region XVI game, and Mineral Area would have to keep its No. 2 spot in the standings ahead of West Plains.
If any of those things don't happen, Three Rivers will travel for the play-in game.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic