PARK HILLS – A late outburst of scoring Monday night allowed the Mineral Area men’s basketball team to pull away from Southwestern Illinois 71-53.
The eighth-ranked Cardinals (15-0) completed a rare season sweep after outscoring the Blue Storm 36-23 after halftime.
Devin Thomas ended with 15 points and seven rebounds. Mineral Area found success early in the second half by either finding him in the post or getting transition layups.
The Cardinals increased their close 35-30 advantage at the break to double digits over the next four minutes on a Lamar Morgan dunk in transition. He recorded 13 points in the victory.
Morgan made both free throws and put the Cardinals up 61-46 with five minutes remaining after a technical foul was called on head coach Jay Harrington.
SW Illinois tried to chip away, but the tenacious defense from the Cardinals proved too much to handle.
Easy baskets were very hard to find for SW Illinois, and rare open looks were rarely falling.
Rebounding played a large role in the Cardinals maintaining their late lead. Zac Cuthbertson and Thomas both attacked the glass hard, and Cuthbertson came away with nine rebounds and 13 points.
The first half was more closely contested, due to both teams converting open looks and controlling the ball.
The Blue Storm found success down low with freshman Jaalam Hill scoring a team-high 13 points, all coming from layups or free throws.
Sophomore Sekou Sangare notched six of his eight rebounds in the first half for SW Illinois, and recorded all six of his points on second-chance shots.
Thomas scored the first seven points for the Cardinals, giving them an early 7-0 lead that never slipped away.
SW Illinois called a timeout after three consecutive Mineral Area possessions ended in made 3-pointers.
Despite the superior outside shooting, the Cardinals struggled at the free-throw line while SW Illinois made 9-of-9 attempts during the first half.
Sophomore guard Shawn Roundtree closed out the period for the Cardinals with driving layups in traffic on back-to-back possessions, and posted 15 points overall.
Mineral Area will close out the semester at Southeastern Illinois on Saturday.