PARK HILLS — Mineral Area turned aside numerous chances to fire from the perimeter during the first half, electing instead to penetrate the Three Rivers defense through the post.
The plan succeeded in building an early lead, and the rival Raiders offered a futile response as the Cardinals pulled away for an 78-56 triumph in the first round of the men’s Region XVI tournament.
Cris Craig scored a game-high 19 points, sinking four of his five 3-pointers after the intermission, and the Cardinals (17-13) advanced to face top seed State Fair in Friday’s semifinal round at Jefferson College.
The rematch lacked the intensity and attendance of the previous meeting on Homecoming night in Park Hills despite its significance of finality.
Mineral Area would take control behind a pivotal 13-0 spurt that covered nearly five minutes, turning three big offensive rebounds into points.
Anthony Virdure scored seven of his 15 points during that run by attacking off the dribble. His 3-point play created a 23-14 MAC advantage.
Orlando Johnson netted 14 points and Randy Holmes pitched in 11 to give the Cardinals an even more decisive edge inside.
Jared White paced Three Rivers with 14 points and Uzonna Akazi had nine. Both players lost minutes due to early foul trouble, and Akazi picked up his third just before halftime.
Mineral Area carried a 34-24 lead at the break after attempting only four shots from beyond the arc, then maintained a similar margin with a sudden jolt from the outside.
Aaron Cassell drained a 3-pointer on a kickout pass, and Craig connected twice from the corners to directly answer three field goals by the Raiders.
White raced end to end for a layup that slashed the Three Rivers deficit to 53-44, but the visitors were outscored 25-12 over the final nine minutes.
Virdure sparked the surge with a key triple, then reacted to a blocked shot by sending an alert touch pass to Johnson for a layup.
Two final long-range daggers from Craig produced a 68-47 spread, and the Cardinals hit 19-of-22 free throws overall to highlight the win.
Three Rivers (17-13) notched its lone region win over MAC in early January, and concluded its 43rd season under legendary head coach Gene Bess.
Twelve players reached the scoring column as the Raiders were a solid 16-of-21 at the line. They jumped ahead 14-10 on Brian Patterson’s 3-pointer.
Three Rivers 24 32 - 56
Mineral Area 34 44 - 78
Three Rivers - Jared White 14, Uzonna Akazi 9, Torry Butler 8, Jeff Smith 4, Eli Sample 4, Jake Coddington 4, Brian Patterson 3, Nelson Ollie 3, Ramon Ajose 2, Jamie Massey 2, Trey Watkins 2, John Meyer 1. 3-point FG - Akazi, Patterson. (FT: 16-21)
Mineral Area - Cris Craig 19, Anthony Virdure 15, Orlando Johnson 14, Randy Holmes 11, Malik Brown 7, Aaron Cassell 5, Jake White 2, De’Aires Tate 2, Bryce Weibrecht 2. 3-point FG - Craig 5, Cassell, Virdure, Brown. (FT: 19-22)