PARK HILLS – Building an impressive lead turned out to be easier than keeping it for the Mineral Area men’s basketball team during its home opener on Wednesday night.
Freshman guard Darreus Brown began to dribble from 30 feet away, and finished a cross-over move and layup with 1:12 to play that stemmed a late push by visiting SW Illinois.
Brown finished with a team-high 24 points, and the Cardinals produced three straight defensive stops to close out a 94-81 victory following an excellent start.
Yahuza Rasas scored 11 of his 17 points after intermission, and reserve center Gabe O’Neal added 12 for the Cardinals (3-0), who are averaging 90 points through their first three games.
Mineral Area restored a 75-55 lead with 11:08 remaining as Brown drilled his second straight 3-pointer from the deep right wing after dishing to O’Neal for an uncontested slam.
SW Illinois (1-1) responded as Adrian Ware heated up with five 3-pointers in the second half, and Javonte Perkins gashed the MAC defense with successful drives and mid-range jumpers.
Destan Williams raced down the lane for a successful layup, and made an ensuing steal before finding Perkins ahead in transition to bring the Blue Storm within 84-76.
Those field goals were part for a 12-0 run that Ware ignited with two long-range strikes. Mineral Area benefited from a goal-tending call and tip-in by Steve Wooten in retaliation.
Ware nailed another triple and hit a fast-break layup off another Williams steal to make it 88-81, but Brown delivered his final basket in a crucial spot following a timeout.
Perkins shined with a game-high 30 points and six rebounds, going 6-of-6 from the line, and Ware had 19 of his 21 during the second stanza for SW Illinois.
With former MAC head coach Corey Tate and current St. Louis University head coach Travis Ford in attendance, the Cardinals threatened to turn the contest into a runaway early.
Mineral Area committed only one turnover during the first 12 minutes of action while having yet to surrender an offensive rebound to the Blue Storm.
Brown bolted to the rim for consecutive layups, and Rasas converted a 3-point play after gathering a pass in the paint and going up strong for a 29-14 lead.
O’Neal turned to score in the post, and Onteral Woodson made it 42-19 in transition off a steal and outlet pass by Brown.
Point guard David Kachelries charmed the home crowd with some dazzling plays while totaling nine points, seven assists and four steals.
The sophomore transfer from Division I NJIT blocked a shot out of nowhere, escaped two trapping defenders with a slick spin, and fired a kickout pass to Brown for a 3-pointer in the first half.
SW Illinois struggled to faze the Cardinals with half-court pressure, but immediately generated some elusive hope once extending defense forward against the receivers of inbounds passes.
Williams and Lukas Hensler scored directly off their own steals, and Kevin Caldwell added a third straight layup off a Mineral Area turnover within a span of 40 seconds.
The Blue Storm continued a 12-0 spurt to get within 42-31, but Woodson followed his own miss and O’Neal flushed an entry feed from Kachelries to create a 50-34 halftime spread.
Mineral Area committed 11 fouls before the break, and Woodson collected his fifth with 4:30 remaining while finishing with eight first-half points and six rebounds.
Perkins cut the SW Illinois deficit to 54-44 on a 3-pointer after MAC failed to disrupt a couple of driving layups during a 10-2 run early in the second half.
Kachelries calmly found Patrick Strzala in the left corner for a pivotal three, however, and got a friendly roll on a running flip with contact as the lead eventually reached 20 again.
Strzala netted 10 points as a fourth player in double figures for Mineral Area, which will travel to meet the Quincy University junior varsity on Monday.
Williams had eight points and five steals for the Blue Storm.