SEDALIA, Mo. — The Lady Raiders were held below 60 points for the first time all season and shot 34 percent from the floor. They still found a way to win.
Three Rivers increased its winning streak to seven games by grinding out a 56-53 victory Friday against State Fair in the first game of a back-to-back on the road. J'Kayla Fowler blocked a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to seal the win.
"We flat guarded them in the second half," Three Rivers coach Jeff Walk said. "Held them to 22 percent from the field and just made big plays after big plays just to keep it close. ... It was definitely a defensive battle."
The Lady Raiders (14-3, 2-0 Region XVI) started slowly and were trailing by six points in the third quarter, their largest deficit of the game. The players uncharacteristically turned the ball over at times and missed a couple of open layups. Eventually, Walk broke his clipboard into three pieces, called a timeout and talked to the team.
"I've broken a few clipboards in the past, but I've never had one break in thirds," Walk said. "(The message was) to start playing harder than they were and take control of the basketball game and slow down on offense. We kind of went on a five, six, 7-0 run right there, and that was the difference in the game really."
His message lit a fire under the players. The Lady Raiders went on a 17-9 run to end the third quarter as the intensity and energy picked up, especially on the defensive end and on the glass.
Hannah Thurmon blocked four shots and contested several others, making her presence felt throughout the game on the defensive end.
Offensively, Deanay Watson sparked the spurt after soaring for an offensive rebound and a putback. Jordan Little followed with a layup. Thurmon scored her only three points of the game via a corner 3 to answer one from State Fair (4-9, 0-1 Region XVI) and cut the Roadrunners' lead back to two. Little split a pair at the free-throw line, and Katelyn South gave the Lady Raiders their first lead of the second half with a left-handed finish at the rim with 3:56 left in the third quarter.
Jazzmyn Elston did all she could in the third to keep State Fair ahead, knocking down a 3 to give her team the lead once again, but Three Rivers answered with nine straight points to take a seven-point lead — its largest of the game — at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Elston finished with 24 points in 36 minutes, but Three Rivers was able to limit her to 9-of-23 shooting from the field and didn't allow any other Lady Roadrunners to score in double figures.
"Defensively, those good players like that are going to score," Walk said. "You've just got to make sure that nobody else is going to step in there and surprise you. She can play. We knew she could play; we just tried to make it tough on her, but you know, when they're good they're good."
Throughout the whole fourth quarter, Three Rivers kept State Fair at an arm's length, never letting the hosts pull within two points in the final frame. Little split a pair of free throws to put the Lady Raiders up by three, and Fowler made the biggest defensive play of the game at the buzzer, blocking a game-tying shot to seal the win.
Little led the Lady Raiders with 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the floor, and Watson was the only other Lady Raider in double figures with 14 points and eight rebounds. It was Watson's second straight game in double figures and her 11th game this season with 10 or more points. For Little, her 19 points were one shy of matching her season high and her 12th game in double figures.
"It goes back to what we've talked about before, who you going to stop? You stop one kid this game and you've got two or three other kids who can do what the kid you're trying to stop can do," Walk said. "You've got to guard all five of our kids out on the floor in every possession, and that just makes us better down the stretch.
"When we shoot the ball like we did last night and still can guard and not get rattled, we're going to be OK I think."
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic