PARK HILLS – Sophomore center Zach Cameron soared in from the blind side to erase an incoming shot off the backboard, and a trio of teammates swarmed to create a pivotal jump ball.
Those clutch defensive plays on consecutive possessions Saturday night helped the Mineral Area men’s basketball team avert a potential setback on its home court.
Lance Singh netted a game-high 16 points, including four straight free throws inside the final minute, as the Cardinals edged State Fair 76-72 in a key Region 16 game.
Bobby Parker tallied 13 points to finish among five Mineral Area players in double figures, and clinched the outcome with a perfect pair from the stripe in the waning seconds.
Mineral Area (18-5, 2-2) trailed 62-60 with five minutes remaining before countering with an 8-0 spurt. Parker drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer from the right side to spark the rally.
Roman Young followed with a steal while guarding the top of the key, and sank his fourth triple of the second half without a miss on a return feed from Parker.
Roadrunners guard Andre Walker was then issued a technical foul, but the visitors still rallied to pull even when Caleb Coleman finished an entry pass to make it 68-68.
Coleman dropped in a lob to match a pull-up bank shot from Singh, and State Fair (16-5, 2-2) coaxed a missed jumper to gain possession in a 70-70 affair.
Dru Smith attacked with a runner from just outside the paint, but Cameron was there for the denial. Singh drove in transition to earn successful free throws with 38.5 seconds left.
Jamie Ahale converged with Young and Singh to tie up State Fair guard Tim Leavell, and Singh headed back to the line after the arrow favored the Cardinals.
Tempers simmered as the contest pushed toward its conclusion, and some participants were separated while exchanging verbal barbs in a contentious handshake line.
The teams are scheduled for a rematch in the regular-season finale on Feb. 24 in Sedalia with Region 16 tournament seeding likely to be directly affected.
Smith produced 15 points and Dominic Fragola added 13 for State Fair, which fell despite going a perfect 13-of-13 from the line. Isaac Bassey and Coleman chipped in 10 points each.
Young indeed fulfilled his usual role of distributor with seven assists, but suddenly became the premier scoring option for the Cardinals out of intermission.
The sophomore point guard sandwiched two 3-pointers around a driving layup within a personal 8-0 run, and later lobbed to Cameron for an uncontested tying slam at 41-41.
Young netted 15 points exclusively in the second half, while Maurice Edwards and Cameron supplied 10 apiece. Mineral Area committed just seven turnovers in the game.
Walker penetrated for his own layup before dishing neatly to Coleman as the Roadrunners jumped in front 8-3 at the outset.
Edwards was bumped on a twisting layup that turned into a 3-point play and a 13-13 deadlock, and Kevin Hamlet muscled in a putback that gave the Cardinals a 23-22 lead.
Bassey did not see action after halftime, but the 6-foot-11 center easily threw down two dunks as the Mineral Area defense left him wide open.
State Fair grabbed its largest advantage of eight after Walker and Fragola connected on back-to-back triples. Hamlet netted the last two field goals of the half to bring MAC within 35-31.
The Cardinals will host dangerous MSU-West Plains in another conference and regional showdown on Wednesday.