PARK HILLS – Sophomore guard Brett Thompson provided a crucial increase in minutes and production to help the Mineral Area men’s basketball team bounce back on Wednesday night.
Thompson scored a game-high 20 points and made 8-of-9 free throws while cracking the starting lineup as the Cardinals turned back MSU-West Plains 71-59.
Keonte Jones finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, including two straight challenges to deny layup attempts in the closing minutes.
Mineral Area (15-4, 3-1) rode an adjusted starting five for a large majority of the game as point guard Terry Ford rested an injury. Sophomore Manu Musemena was in uniform but not in action.
Nico Hill paced MSU-West Plains (8-12, 2-2) with 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, and brought the visitors within 60-55 on a 22-footer with 4:25 to play.
Jones answered from long range on inside-outside ball movement, and Jamir Price attacked from the right side to score with a smooth spin and restore a safe 67-57 advantage.
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Price ended with 13 points and three steals, and Kenan Sarvan totaled 13 points with six rebounds. The Cardinals overcame 16 turnovers despite getting just two points from their bench.
The Grizzlies limited the number of chances for MAC to run by committing only 11 turnovers. Thompson still managed to create some transition offense by quickly pushing his dribble ahead.
Each squad connected on nine 3-pointers during a contest tied 30-30 at halftime. Mineral Area returned from the locker room to mount a crucial 16-2 run.
Sarvan missed six consecutive shots prior to intermission, but drilled three straight triples while adding a cutting layup off a steal and pass from Gavin Harris for a sudden 46-32 advantage.
West Plains somewhat narrowed the gap as Mehdi Pissis hit a 3-pointer and Tre Breland made a steal and layup before the defense coaxed a 10-second violation against MAC.
Hill turned and connected off an entry pass at 49-44, but Thompson sank a key 3-pointer and attacked the length of the court while increasing the margin to 57-47.
Jones shook pain from his thumb after dunking on a baseline cut in the first half, but still worked his way inside for another basket through contact on the next offensive sequence.
Harris sank a long three from the left wing to rebuild a 18-12 advantage for Mineral Area, and compiled game highs of eight rebounds and eight assists while chipping in eight points.
The Cardinals sought to establish a more favorable pace following their lackluster effort against Three Rivers on Saturday, and opened with two promising possessions.
The Grizzlies burned their first timeout just 38 seconds into the action after being beaten on an outlet pass from Price to Jones, who then returned the favor after making a midcourt steal.
West Plains eventually got a tying 3-pointer from Hill after the Cardinals fumbled an accurate pass into the post, and moved ahead 22-20 on a putback by forward Ugo Eze.
MAC countered with a modest 6-0 spurt as Harris slashed through the vacant lane for a left-handed finish and Thompson added another layup after breaking pressure.
North County graduate Karter Kekec and freshman guard Aisaiah Phillips played important minutes near the conclusion of the first half as the home team utilized nine players.
The Cardinals hope to be healthier for a rematch with Moberly on Saturday. Mineral Area won the previous clash by one point on the road in December.
Breland scored 10 points while Isaiah Lewis and Pissis added eight apiece for MSU-West Plains.