Sometimes, one player can make the difference in a game. Friday night, that difference was Northeastern Oklahoma A&M forward Bethy Mununga. Three Rivers had no answer for Mununga in her 33 minutes on the court. The previous NJCAA Player of the Week racked up a gamehigh 24 points and 17 rebounds on a nearly perfect 12-of-14 shooting night from the floor as NEO outlasted Three Rivers 82-72, ending the Lady Raiders' four-game winning streak. The Three Rivers zone had trouble keeping up with NEO's offense at times throughout the night. Crisp passing, side-to-side movement and timely cuts through the lane and along the baseline kept the Lady Raiders off balance. "They moved the ball well," coach Jeff Walk said. "They got us caught in a couple rotations in our zone defense that's there. If they make those quick passes, it's hard to get people where they need to get to, to cover shots and get rebounds." NEO's defense slowed down Three Rivers' attack and had the hosts settling for 3-pointers and caused them to turn the ball over 21 times, leading to 26 points off turnovers for the Lady Norsemen. The third quarter is where NEO created enough separation to survive a late comeback attempt from Three Rivers. After trailing by 9 points at halftime, Three Rivers stormed out of the locker room with the first seven points of the third quarter behind a 3-pointer from freshman Jordan Little and baskets by sophomores Kim Shaw and Hailee Erickson that cut the deficit to 33-31. NEO took the body blow and responded with an 11-2 run that was sparked by a pair of mid-range jumpers by Mununga. All night, Mununga and the NEO offense were making 15-footers — a shot that isn't often relied on nowadays — look like layups. "That's on them for making good shots, but it's hard to win those games when it counts, though," Walk said. "That mid-range game is hard to come across." Kiarra Brooks picked off a pass and took it coast-tocoast for a layup to finish the run and score a pair of her 19 points, putting NEO up by double figures for the first time with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter. A 14-4 run by the Lady Norsemen put the Lady Raiders in their biggest hole of the game in the fourth quarter. Jo'nah Johnson started the fourth by nailing a triple on a sequence in which every Lady Norsemen on the floor touched the ball before finding her alone on the wing near her bench. Two plays later, Brooks was waiting in the corner when a defender deflected the ball right into her shooting pocket for another 3. Four straight made free throws from Johnson put Three Rivers down 25 points. "They were a good team, and lately, we haven't been playing teams like that," Erickson said. "It was just different playing teams that would back off and wouldn't be up on us as much." The Lady Raiders teased a comeback once Mununga went to the bench for the final five minutes of the game. As soon as she took a seat, Three Rivers exploded on a 12-0 run. The Lady Raiders began attacking the paint and drawing fouls to try and get back in the game, and it almost worked. Erickson and freshman Lana Reed each hit a pair of free throws to pull within 20 points. Freshman Katelyn South drove the lane and faked a pass before hitting a layup through contact, drawing a foul. "We were just getting into the flow and figuring things out and able to get to the rim and get fouls," Erickson said. "Coach said we need to start getting to the rim and scoring when the clock is stopped so we can cut into the lead faster." Three Rivers made another defensive stop, and Erickson took an outlet pass from South all the way to the rim for two. Erickson made two more free throws on the ensuing possession, forcing a timeout from NEO. Erickson put the onus on herself to score late as she attacked the rim again for another layup. She nearly had a steal seconds later, but she was whistled for a foul on what would've been an easy layup for the Lady Raiders with a minute left. "She's a sophomore; she's been through this," Walk said. "That's what we expect her to do, and she kind of stepped up to the plate today. We went four low with her getting to the basket, and she's not the fastest kid in the gym, but she's the best free-throw shooter we have." With the clock working against them, time ran out on Three Rivers as the comeback attempt fell short. "The kids worked hard," Walk said. "We're still young. We still revert back to some high school stuff. But we learn from games like this."
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic