When redshirt sophomore Chris Stocks hit a pull-up, mid-range jumper 19 seconds into Friday night's game and the fans cheered and clapped, it signified the return of Raiders basketball to the Bess Activity Center. That energy catapulted the Raiders to a wire-to-wire 93-61 victory Friday against North Lake (Texas), a perfect way to get off on the right foot and build early momentum. "We played hard, but we had a big crowd on our side," sophomore guard Tristan Jarrett said. "We played within each other with help defense; we moved the ball; we played like a whole other team." Defense had been a problem at times during the preseason, but the Raiders were swarming Friday. Three Rivers (1-0) forced 27 turnovers, 15 of which were steals that allowed the hosts to break out in transition for and speed up the pace of the game, something head coach Gene Bess put an emphasis on doing in the preseason. "We're trying to do an up-tempo game offensively, and we hustled really well tonight," said Bess, who collected his 1,269th win Friday. "We played several practice games, and we kind of went through the motions, but I think everybody kind of got fired up (for the regular season)." When North Lake (0-1) was getting shots off, they were often contested. Three Rivers wasn't allowing anything to come easy, forcing the Blazers to shoot 29 percent from the floor for the game. The offense shot 41 from the floor and 45 percent from the free-throw line, numbers that will need to improve for the success to continue. "We work on free throws a lot in practice," Jarrett said. "I don't know why we were missing them. I guess we were tired in the game or something. But we were missing them. We'll hit them (next time), though. We work on them in practice every day." But unselfish play helped the team rack up 22 assists and allowed four players to score in double figures. "I think we're going to be unselfish," Bess said. "Unselfish would be a great blessing playing this style of ball. We beat a pretty good team. They didn't play very well tonight. They've got a great coach. … I was not taking this game lightly to say the least." Jarrett tied freshman Hayden Sprenkel for the team lead with 15 points. Jarrett added five assists to pace the team. Sprenkel had the green light from beyond the arc all night, knocking down five 3-pointers on 12 attempts off the bench, four of which came in the second half. "My teammates did a great job just finding me when I was open," said Sprenkel. "It was my first college game, so when I first got in the game I was kind of nervous, but I have to credit my teammates for finding me when I'm open. They were running a zone, so we were just trying to find the open shots." With both teams starting out cold offensively, the Raiders were able to pull away midway through the first half once the offense found consistency. The longest run of the game by either team began at the 10:20 mark of the first half. Freshman Jay Hines was given the task of maneuvering through the middle of North Lake's defense to collapse its 2-3 zone. Jarrett fed him the ball and he made a layup to score the first points of an eventual 13-0 run. When redshirt freshman Aaron Tait splashed a triple, it capped the run with just under 8 minutes to go in the half, and Three Rivers found itself with a 31-13 lead.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic