POPLAR BLUFF - Three Rivers was one rebound away from having possession with the opportunity to tie the game.
Instead, the missed free throw fell into the hands of Wabash Valley's Quinton Butler, who sank two free throws with 41 seconds left to ice the Warriors' 67-61 victory against the Raiders Saturday afternoon at the Bess Activity Center.
Three Rivers, which trailed by as many as 12 points early in the second half, was down two when Derrick Graham stepped to the free-throw line with 45 seconds left. He missed both, but the rebound eluded the Raiders.
"That was my fault," forward Chris Carr said. "I let my man catch the ball and that's something coach emphasizes. I didn't do my part and kinda let the team down."
Wabash only had a 34-33 rebounding advantage, but the big ones seemed to find their way into the Warriors' hands.
"Very crucial," sophomore Steve Deken said. "That's all I can say."
The Raiders still had a chance down four, but Graham came up with a steal as Three Rivers pushed the ball downcourt. The Warriors knocked down two more free throws to seal Three Rivers' second home loss of the season.
"You flat out can't give good teams like that that many second shots," Raiders coach Gene Bess said.
"That was the difference in the game. I don't know who we can put under there because they just take turns doing that. It's almost like we're afraid to really get up there and hammer somebody. We're afraid they're not going to like it or something, so we stand around and look."
Dereke Tipler and Danijel Zoric scored 14 apiece for Three Rivers, which dug itself a similar hole the first meeting Nov. 11 against Wabash Valley. The Raiders trailed by 13 points midway through the first half before rallying to win 68-59.
They nearly pulled off an identical comeback this time, erasing a double-digit deficit when C.J. Hadley knocked down a 3-pointer with 10:01 left to take a 48-46 lead. But the Warriors (5-4) scored 10 of the next 12 points to lead by six.
Tipler made it a three-point game with a pair of free throws with 1:21 left, then corralled a loose rebound and scored with 53 seconds remaining to pull within two. But Three Rivers never got closer.
The Raiders (7-4) did most of their rallying with Tipler on the sidelines. He took an elbow to the mouth trying to take a charge on the first possession of the second half, then picked up his fourth foul at the 15:14 mark. He returned with just over six minutes left and Three Rivers down three.
"I felt like if we would have taken that one little lead at the end that we would have had the game," Deken said. "We got right there, we just never took it."
Since a 5-0 start, the Raiders have dropped four of their last six games, including two home losses in the same season for the first time in five years. It doesn't get any easier with a tough matchup against Southwestern Illinois at today's Missouri-Illinois JUCO Shootout.
"Hopefully this is going to teach a lesson and make us better every time. That's all I care about," Deken said. "By the end of the season we'll be ready to win."
Wabash, just two years removed from a national championship, began pulling away with a 13-2 run midway through the first half. Marques Dawson's steal and two-handed dunk gave the Warriors a 21-12 lead.
Three Rivers got within two when Zoric took a pass inside from Carr and scored, but Shelby Jordan knocked down a 3-pointer and converted a 3-point play on consecutive possessions to push Wabash's advantage to eight.
The Warriors controlled the paint early with six blocked shots and several steals in traffic in the first half. Zoric had four shots blocked in the opening half.
"It was pretty tough down in there," Bess said. "It's a learning experience for Yugo. But these sophomores, I don't know."