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POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. – A Mineral Area men’s basketball defense that struggled often last season made a positive first impression to begin the new campaign on Friday night.

The Cardinals contained Wabash Valley from the outset, and pulled away throughout the second half to prevail 73-50 in the Three Rivers Classic.

Ja’Quaye James posted team highs with 15 points and seven assists while grabbing six rebounds for the Cardinals, who carried a 32-27 halftime lead.

Kevin Legardy added 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting as Mineral Area 48 percent from the field. Returning center Gabe O’Neal provided nine points and nine rebounds.

Malevy Leons compiled nine points, eight rebounds and five key blocks, while Angelo Stuart also pitched in nine points off the MAC bench.

The victory was the 100th career for head coach Luke Strege, who begins his fifth season at Mineral Area.

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The Cardinals followed up Saturday night with a comfortable 113-66 rout of Link Year Prep after shooting 54 percent overall and sinking nine 3-pointers.

Stuart was a blistering 10-of-12 from the field for 22 points, and Keyyaun Batchman scored 18 more as five Mineral Area players achieved double figures.

Legardy notched a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Leons went 3-of-4 from long range to register 13 points with three steals.

Terrion Murdix had a balanced effort in a reserve role with 12 points, six rebounds and five assists. Kevin Stone collected six steals and equaled O’Neal with nine points apiece.

James dished out seven assists, and Mineral Area (2-0) bolted ahead to a 62-24 halftime cushion. The Cardinals face John A. Logan in the home opener on Wednesday.

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