The Lady Raiders held their own against No. 21 Wabash Valley for three quarters Saturday. In the first, third and fourth quarters, Three Rivers was outscored by a combined eight points. The second quarter, though, was their undoing. Wabash Valley delivered a knockout blow early in the second with a 13-4 run, outscoring Three Rivers 26-13 in the frame en route to an 88-67 victory over the hosts at the Bess Activity Center. "Playing a (top) team in the nation with five sophomores out on the floor pretty much the entire night, you can just tell the difference," coach Jeff Walk said. "Second half, we played with them. The second quarter was our worst quarter when we only scored 13. (We) kind of got out of rhythm, and that's because of their length."
With a smaller lineup featuring just one player over 6-foot, the Lady Raiders couldn't keep up on the glass and in the paint with a Lady Warrior lineup that had six players listed at 6-foot or taller. Three Rivers finished the game at minus-18 in rebounding and was outscored 30-10 in points in the paint. "The freshmen have never experienced what they went through in that first half," Walk said. "And until you go through that, you can tell him how it's going to be and try to simulate in practice how it's going to be, but until they actually experience it, they don't know." Despite those disadvantages and an 18-point halftime deficit, the Lady Raiders didn't roll over. Three Rivers made several runs in the second half but wasn't able to cut the deficit below 17 points. Trailing 54-29, sophomore Hailee Erickson nailed a 3-pointer from the wing to spark a 10-2 run and send a jolt of energy to the offense on a night when it was much-needed. Erickson then converted a layup at the 6:59 mark in the third after the Raiders forced one of Wabash Valley's 22 turnovers, a trend that typically led to easy points in transition for the Lady Raiders' offense. Saturday, Three Rivers finished minus-3 in points off turnovers at 20-17, the first time they'd been behind in the category this season. "It showed us some good things. They matured a little bit, slowed down and then started relaxing and playing," Walk said. "That was the biggest thing. We came out scared to death, and I don't know why." After a layup from freshman Deanay Watson, freshman Jordan Little capped the run by sinking a deep 3 from several feet behind the arc. Little finished with a teamhigh 17 points. "Some of the passes that would usually make it didn't because of their size, but we tried to work around that with pass fakes and smarter passes," Little said. "We just decided we were going to have to work harder if we were even going to come close." Wabash Valley then responded by taking its largest lead of the night. After both teams traded baskets, the visitors went on an 11-2 run that carried into the fourth quarter to take their largest lead of the night at 78-51, sparked by an Alexis Thomas corner 3. Thomas finished with 18 points and made four 3s, consistently getting open in the corners against the 1-3-1 zone Three Rivers ran. The Lady Raiders came back with an 11-0 run to pull within 17 once again. The hosts were stringing together stops and forcing turnovers consistently to get easy baskets. Deanay Watson stole the ball and sank an uncontested layup, then scored another after Hannah Thurmon pulled down a rebound and found her for an outlet pass down the court. Thurmon came up with a steal 12 seconds later and passed to Erickson, who was fouled on a 3-point shot, draining all three free throws. Watson then repeated her steal and score sequence. For that two-minute span, the Lady Raiders perfectly executed what had been their bread and butter through the previous four games of the season and showed they can compete with a team they might not match up well against. "Almost daylight and dark difference, the first half and the second half," Walk said. "We know we can play with them because we have in the second half. We just have to put it together for four quarters against a really good basketball team. We haven't had to do that yet. We've only had to play maybe two quarters because most of the time they're blowouts. "Playing a team like this, even though we got beat, this is going to help us in region play."
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic