JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Maurice Edwards and Lance Singh furiously slashed off the dribble to help the Mineral Area men’s basketball team reduce a late nine-point deficit to one possession.
But a lackluster performance along the boards had the Cardinals competing from behind throughout much of the second half Saturday in the Region 16 championship game.
MSU-West Plains decisively won battles inside through its rotation of powerful post players, and used a plus-18 rebound disparity to secure a 74-71 victory as the No. 4 seed in the five-team bracket.
Rashad Davis finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and was perfect on eight free throws – including four clutch attempts in the final 18 seconds – for the Grizzlies (25-8).
Edwards scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, and split a pair from the line to bring Mineral Area within 68-66 after drawing contact on a drive.
The ensuing possession would be a microcosm of the Cardinals’ struggles, however, as Burone Edwards collected a missed shot and made an uncontested putback for the Grizzlies.
Mineral Area used a 3-point play from Maurice Edwards with 22 seconds left to make the score 70-69, and a layup with 7.4 on the clock left the margin at 72-71.
MSU-West Plains avoided being fouled until 3.0 seconds were all that remained, and a desperation 40-foot heave by MAC fell short after Davis hit two insurance free throws.
Eric Lovett netted 14 points, Dontell Brown claimed nine rebounds while matching Yannis Mendy with 12 points, and the Grizzlies were 28-of-35 from the line compared to 18-of-23 by the Cardinals.
Mineral Area (23-9) squandered an excellent start. Jamie Ahale drained the first of his four 3-pointers, and sparked a transition basket with a steal during an opening 19-6 run.
Singh was the chief Mineral Area catalyst, notching 10 of the team’s first 17 points. He finished with a game-high 23 points plus four steals, and converted 7-of-8 free throws.
Ahale fired in 17 points over 38 minutes of action, and Roman Young made six assists. But the banged-up Cardinals were unable to generate any consistent production in the paint.
Zach Cameron and Dmonta Harris were a combined 0-of-5 from the field, and Bobby Parker missed all four of his shots as a nagging ankle injury clearly hindered his mobility.
Kevin Hamlet provided eight points off the bench, but played only 15 minutes before fouling out with 4:58 remaining. MAC surrendered 18 offensive rebounds while securing only five of its own.
West Plains recovered from a rough start to dominate the last 13 minutes of the first half with a 27-7 scoring outburst that thrived at the defensive end.
Mendy scored on an interior feed from Ricky Torres, and tapped in an ensuing putback attempts. The Grizzlies proceeded to repeatedly deflect or swipe entry passes from the perimeter.
Davis gave West Plains its first lead at 22-21, and recorded consecutive second-chance baskets along with Brown to create a 30-23 spread.
Mineral Area chopped into a 34-26 deficit at intermission with a 7-0 spurt. After Ahale drilled a corner 3-pointer, Edwards and Hamlet finished passes from Young while cutting for back-to-back layups.
An entertaining second half featured four subsequent ties without a single lead change, and two free throws by Singh resulted in a 48-48 contest with 10:37 to play.
West Plains snapped a 58-58 deadlock with a pivotal 9-0 jolt that included a key triple from Lovett, who was standing wide open an inbounds play.
Good ball movement helped Edwards drilled a triple in response, but the Cardinals could not complete the late rally despite posting seven straight points.
Mineral Area was seeking its first Region 16 title since going to the NJCAA Tournament in 2015, but lost the rubber match to the Grizzlies after each squad won at home earlier this season.
Torres neared a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds while running the point as five players from West Plains scored double digits.
West Plains will travel to face the District 4 champion – either Highland or Kankakee – next weekend in a district playoff game an automatic tournament berth.