PARK HILLS – With rival Three Rivers honoring the threat of a perimeter barrage, opportunities to create off the dribble were prevalent Saturday night for the Mineral Area men’s basketball team.
Freshman guard Maurice Edwards gashed the opposing defense repeatedly to score a season-high 24 points, and the Cardinals secured an 82-69 victory in their Region 16 opener.
Mineral Area (14-3, 1-0) emerged from an early 15-point deficit to eventually hold serve at home, keyed by a rousing 13-2 run and four consecutive made field goals to begin the second half.
Jamie Ahale, Lance Singh and Bobby Parker each knocked down 3-pointers in a stretch that spanned less than two minutes, turning a 40-35 halftime hole into a sudden 48-42 advantage.
Edwards was a recurring standout from there, finishing five separate driving layups and drawing several Three Rivers fouls. He made 8-of-10 free throws in the contest.
“Having Jamie and Bobby in the corners makes things a lot easier. The defense was not going to leave them, because they are our two best shooters,” Mineral Area head coach Luke Strege said. “So there was no help when we attacked, and we knew that going in. Our guys were down early, but to their credit, they didn’t panic and stayed the course.”
The Raiders drained 10 triples overall, and closed to within 55-51 when Chris Stocks connected. Mineral Area answered as Dmonta Harris gathered a blocked shot and converted a 3-point play.
Interior baskets by Corey Bowen and Keiondre Jefferson cut the margin to 61-56 and 64-60, respectively, but each was directly countered as Edwards successfully powered through the lane.
“Mo is the best we have at getting to the rim,” Strege said. “This was just a game where we needed to attack, and it just took some time before we started finishing those shots.
“We didn’t change anything offensively. We just made layups. In the first half, we got there, but just struggled to finish. But at halftime, I think our guys just took a second to settle down.”
Sophomore Aiden Saunders knocked down his first open look in an extended period from the baseline to make it 66-63, but the MAC strategy never wavered down the stretch.
Singh drilled a short pull-up jumper, and later scored through contact to restore a 74-66 difference. Roman Young fired an ensuing outlet pass to Parker for a clinching layup.
Singh netted 14 points while Ahale contributed 11 points with eight rebounds to the win. Young capped the game with a midcourt steal and layup, and tallied 10 points with five assists.
The charity stripe also became a glaring factor in the outcome. Mineral Area sank an efficient 20-of-24 free throws compared to just 11-of-28 by the Raiders.
Three Rivers (6-8, 0-1) arrived at Sechrest Fieldhouse carrying a rare losing record after forfeiting three games last month for the use of an academically ineligible player.
But the Raiders scorched the nets in ideal fashion to control much of the first half. They started 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, and Saunders contributed four jumpers to a 27-12 lead.
Saunders had a team-high 16 points while Jefferson provided 12 for Three Rivers. Cameron Maddox and Bowen added 10 each to give each squad four players in double figures.
Edwards pushed end to end for a layup after Ahale hit a corner 3-pointer, and the Cardinals gathered some defensive stops to surge back within 31-28 prior to halftime.
“Our assistant coaches saw a couple of things that we needed to do, pushing out toward their guards a little bit,” Strege said. “We were able to contest better instead of giving them wide-open jumpers. They really were moving the ball too fast for us to keep up in the first half.”
Three Rivers stood tall to draw two charging fouls, and rebuilt a 40-28 lead when Saunders attacked the baseline for a strong layup plus the foul.
Young drained a 3-pointer moments later after center Kevin Hamlet kept the offensive rebound alive, and Mineral Area punctuated the first half with a 7-0 spurt and momentum.
Zach Cameron corralled 11 rebounds for the Cardinals, who will host the Missouri Baptist junior varsity on Wednesday ahead of a road showdown with MSU-West Plains next weekend.
Harris chipped in eight points with seven rebounds.