POPLAR BLUFF - Recent workouts at Three Rivers closely resemble a boot camp, not basketball practice.
"No kind of rest," freshman C.J. Hadley said. "Nine to 12, 2 to 5."
But that hard work appears to be paying off. Following a disappointing 8-6 start, the Raiders opened the second half of the season Friday night with a 96-61 thumping of Florissant Valley at the Black River Coliseum.
It was one of Three Rivers' best efforts since beginning the season 5-0.
"We were well-prepared for this game," said guard Matt Gibson, who led the Raiders with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. "We've been practicing two-a-days, six or seven hours in the gym every day. We've been working hard getting ready for this.
"We had a pretty bad first half of the season and that's all got to change."
Three Rivers (9-6) looked like a completely different team, dominating a Flo Valley team that appeared to be a difficult matchup on paper. The Raiders broke open a four-point game with a 17-4 run late in the first half and led by 20 when Gibson converted a four-point play right before halftime.
Their advantage grew even bigger with a 17-2 run midway through the second half.
Hadley hit four of Three Rivers' 10 3-pointers en route to 16 points. Steve Deken had 12 points and freshman center Danijel Zoric added 10 for the Raiders, who shot 49.3 percent from the field. They were 10-for-25 from downtown.
"We got the wake-up call now," Hadley said. "We can't take anymore losses."
Three Rivers made it look surprisingly easy without point guard Dereke Tipler, who is out indefinitely with a sprained MCL. Minus their top playmaker, the Raiders got a career-high six assists from Deken and five from Nick Covington.
Three Rivers is actually 3-0 this season without Tipler.
"Too many guys were expecting him to do too much maybe. That may have been part of it," Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said. "We've got to start getting everyone involved."
The Raiders did against Flo Valley. Nine different players scored and Three Rivers' reserves outscored the Norsemen 71-30. Hadley, Gibson and Zoric all came off the bench.
Three Rivers began pulling away early with nine straight points on a pair of Deken baskets, a Hadley 3-pointer and a tip-in from Derrell Minner. After Flo Valley (10-5) cut the deficit to four, Minner had another offensive putback to spark the Raiders' run.
Back-to-back 3s from Danny Mills and Hadley made it 38-21 at the 3:37 mark. Gibson gave Three Rivers a 20-point cushion when he buried a 3 from the left wing while being knocked down at the end of the half.
"Everyone is starting to get a feel for each other and coming together," Gibson said. "We're all young and none of us knew each other before we came here. I think now we're getting in a rhythm where we trust each other."
Flo Valley struggled to find points, going 2-for-20 from downtown and shooting just 30 percent. Their 26 first-half points were the second-lowest total Three Rivers has allowed this season.
"We've really worked on a lot of our problems over this break and I think we're going to come back a lot stronger team the second half," Deken said. "A lot of it has been effort and working on our defense."
Ahead 56-34 in the second half, the Raiders got a Minner layup, putback from walk-on Aaron Bidewell and basket from Loic Toiler as they went up by 30. They had a 73-36 advantage when Toiler converted a steal into an easy basket.
One of the biggest changes Three Rivers made over the break was a change in offensive philosophy. Deken and Zoric took turns scoring in the low block and Minner had 10 rebounds in 18 minutes. Three Rivers had a 50-35 rebounding advantage.
Damarius Boids had 14 points for Flo Valley, which had twice as many turnovers (21) as assists (10).
Toiler had career highs of nine points and eight rebounds for the Raiders, who are 65-3 all-time against the Norsemen. Mills added eight. Three Rivers played in front of the smallest home crowd of the season.
"We don't need fans, we need wins," Gibson said.