POPLAR BLUFF - Chris Carr and Derrell Minner bid farewell to Three Rivers with the best games of their careers.
The only sophomores to dress in the Raiders' season finale, Carr and Minner each had double-doubles as Three Rivers shook off a slow start to down Dyersburg State 97-72 Saturday night.
Playing for the final time at the Bess Activity Center, the Raiders' power forward tandem went out in style. Carr had a career-high 17 points and 13 rebounds while Minner scored 11 and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds.
"Maybe because it was our last game we got the spirit in us," said Carr, averaging just over six points and six rebounds this season. "I don't know. We told each other before the game to go out there and play hard."
Minner, who had nine offensive rebounds, admitted the thought of playing his final home game crossed his mind.
"I was thinking about that," Minner said. "I told myself it was the last game and that I wanted to set the record for most rebounds in a game."
Although he fell well short -- the single-game record is 28 set by Dennis Sims during the 1973-74 season -- Minner and Carr both made lasting impressions in their last on-campus game.
The two logged extended minutes with freshman center Danijel Zoric sidelined with a sprained ankle he suffered early in the first half.
Fellow sophomores Dereke Tipler (knee) and Steve Deken (wrist) also sat out.
"When they have rebounded well, we've been a pretty good team," Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said. "I like the way they played. I'd like to think if we get Zoric and Dereke well and those guys would play as well as they did tonight, we could be a pretty good team maybe in this regional tournament."
The Raiders (18-11) certainly didn't look good early.
Dyersburg State, which lost at Three Rivers 131-78 in late November, played even with the Raiders for 25 minutes and only trailed by one point with 15:05 remaining. But Three Rivers finally hit its stride, rattling off a quick 17-3 run and outscoring the Eagles 53-29 the rest of the way.
"We had beaten them so bad the first time that these guys obviously didn't show up to play," Bess said. "It was pretty noticeable to the coaching staff. It looked like a lot of immaturity out there on the court from our standpoint. I like the way we played the last 10-15 minutes because we had some guys doing some things they hadn't done for awhile. November mistakes during most of the game, then the last 10 or 20 minutes I thought we played pretty good."
Freshman Matt Gibson shook off a slow start to score a game-high 29 points. C.J. Hadley had 12 points and seven rebounds for Three Rivers, which made up for 41 percent shooting by making 34-of-44 free throws.
Gibson, who was 5-for-18 from the field, was 16-for-20 at the free throw line.
Three Rivers, seeded third in the upcoming postseason tournament, has five days to prepare for its region opener at 8 p.m. Friday against SMSU-West Plains. The Grizzlies swept the season series 100-95 and 96-90.
Already missing two starters, the Raiders got a scare early in Saturday's game when Zoric sprained his right ankle less than five minutes in. He went to the locker room for several minutes before returning on crutches and icing his ankle on the sidelines. It's another frustrating injury for Zoric, who has battled a strained Achilles tendon and tendinitis in both knees this season.
"I think we're a very average team without him," Bess said. "I think he'll be ready to go, I just hope he's able to do enough this week to stay in shape."
The Raiders looked in good shape when Zoric converted a 3-point play on the opening possession and they forced a shot-clock violation on Dyersburg's first trip downcourt.
But the Eagles put up a fight, getting a pair of 3-pointers from Rodney Gibbs to take a brief lead. Dyersburg led 20-17 at one point and tied it at 28-all on a Derrick Turner 3.
Three Rivers struggled to find points in the first half.
Gibson, the region's leading scorer at 25.8 points per game, didn't make a first-half field goal and one of his 3-point attempts wedged between the rim and backboard.
The Raiders led by six when Carr picked up a loose ball and knocked down a short jumper just before the half, but the Eagles scored 11 of the first 17 points of the second half to pull within one.
"The first half we came out and played bad," Carr said. "It didn't look like we were ready to play."
Ahead 44-43, Three Rivers got a Hadley 3 from the right baseline as it began to pull away. Minner converted a transition layin to give the Raiders a six-point lead and the advantage reached nine when Gibson got his first field goal -- a 3 from the top of the key that made it 54-45.
After an Eagles free throw, Danny Mills knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner and Hadley connected again from downtown as the Raiders went ahead by double digits.
Three Rivers led by 17 when Hadley blocked a layup, then saved it as he jumped into the bleachers. That led to an easy basket by Mills on the other end.
"Some of our players thought we'd come out here and have a cakewalk," Minner said. "Starting in the second half we came out and played harder. We did what we had to do to get the win."
Derrick Turner had 15 and Gibbs scored 14 for Dyersburg, which shot 31.9 percent.
The Eagles were outrebounded 53-38. Mills scored 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting for the Raiders, who overcame 27 turnovers. Gibson had six rebounds and four steals.
Three Rivers hopes to carry the momentum of a strong finish into the postseason.
"If we can get everything going the way we should, we can beat anybody up there," Bess said. "I'm counting on us to guard and rebound, the offensive end will take care of itself. We can score enough to win if we'll rebound and guard. That's going to be the challenge we're going to give to our young men."