The Raiders have to get back on track, and Saturday is the perfect opportunity to do so.
After dropping a heart-breaker to Arkansas Baptist Tuesday after a foul with 0.2 seconds left gave the Buffaloes the game-winning free throws, Three Rivers fell to 10-17.
Despite that, they still have a chance for a top-three finish in Region XVI if they can complete a regular-season sweep of Mineral Area Saturday in their final regular-season region game in Park Hills.
“In basketball, you kind of learn to roll with the punches,” Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said. “You’ve got to move on, and we’re thinking about Mineral Area. That’s one of our biggest games of the year every year. And we’ve got to go up there and just rebound and come get our act together and get a great game off.”
Mineral Area enters the game with a 20-7 record but hasn’t performed well against in-region competition. The Cardinals are 1-4 in Region XVI games, and their lone win came against State Fair Jan. 26.
The Cardinals do boast a 9-2 home record, though, and Saturday’s game will be their first game back at home after five straight on the road.
The first time the two teams met, it was the Region XVI opener Jan. 5. Three Rivers won 87-77 and controlled almost the entire game. Tristan Jarrett led all scorers in the game with 35 points, but Three Rivers dismissed him this week for a violation of team rules.
That leaves a void to be filled offensively. Tallon Fonda scored 18 points in the January matchup, and Khalil Johnson added a season-high 16 points. The Raiders showed potential to balance out their scoring production to help fill that void on Tuesday. Five different players scored in double figures for the Raiders, led by Fonda’s 16.
“I just want them to do a job, make everybody proud of them, great effort,” Bess said. “The season isn’t over yet. We need this victory up there in order to not get the last seed, so we have to just play the best we can play.”
The Cardinals dismissed their leading scorer, Darreus Brown, less than two weeks ago. Brown averaged 16.5 points and shot over 50 percent from the floor. Brown was the second player to be dismissed from Mineral Area’s roster this season, and it might be without a third Saturday.
Starting guard David Kachelries suffered an ankle injury this week that kept him out of Wednesday’s overtime win against St. Louis CC. Without Kachelries, the Cardinals would be forced to play with seven players.
“They’re basically the same team (as they were in January). They do a lot of really good stuff on offense and they will change their defense and stuff. There’s great similarities. The coach really does a good job, so it’s just basically us getting ready for them,” Bess said.
In the bigger picture, a win for either team Saturday increases their odds of hosting a first-round game in the region tournament. Currently, State Fair holds the third seed over Three Rivers by half a game but hosts Moberly Area Saturday, which is unbeaten in region play with a 6-0 record and has looked like the most complete team in Region XVI all season.
Should State Fair lose their game against Moberly, the winner of Saturday’s game between the Raiders and Mineral Area would jump to third place. A Raiders win puts closes their region schedule with a 3-5 record and ensures they’ll be seeded ahead of Mineral Area due to owning the tiebreaker.
However, Bess isn’t currently showing too much concern for that. He knows his team needs a region — something the Raiders haven’t collected since Jan. 11 at State Fair — to avoid getting the last seed in the tournament and to build momentum heading into the final week of the regular season.
“You don’t say much about that. More than anything else, you just want the guys to play hard, perform up to their capabilities and let the chips fall where they may,” Bess said.
Saturday’s game will tip off at 7 p.m.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic