POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. – A slumping Mineral Area defense could not contain the nation’s leading scorer or his Three Rivers cohorts on Saturday night.
Sophomore guard Tristan Jarrett poured in 35 points on 11-of-25 shooting, and sparked a strong start to the second half as the Raiders prevailed 87-77 in the Region 16 opener.
Tallon Fonda posted 18 points with 10 rebounds, and Khalil Johnson scored 16 for Three Rivers (7-9), which built an eventual 66-42 advantage on a Fonda jumper with 10:33 to play.
Mineral Area (14-4, 0-1) produced a 19-7 run that was abruptly interrupted by an ongoing and bizarre interchange between one official and multiple players.
After Anthony Wales knocked down his second 3-pointer to make it 77-67, Three Rivers guard Abiodun Ayetimiyi was fouled while battling for a rebound on the ensuing possession.
But before he could step to the charity stripe with 3:05 remaining, Cardinals guards Darreus Brown and Patrick Strzala were each assessed technical fouls.
Jarrett made 3-of-4 resulting free throws, and an intentional foul was then signaled against Jared Grubb when Ayetimiyi missed his original front-end attempt.
Mineral Area coach Luke Strege later called a timeout to commence a lengthy verbal exchange with the involved referee, but time would soon run out on the Cardinals.
Brown also picked up an earlier intentional foul, and continued to argue with Raiders reserve Mandarius Dickerson after players had separated from the handshake line.
It was a rocky conclusion to a contest that often seemed to lack structure. The teams combined to shoot 23-of-62 from 3-point range, often firing at the first opportunity within a given possession.
The victory was No. 1,275 in the career of 49th-year head coach Gene Bess, and the first home triumph for Three Rivers over the Cardinals in three seasons.
Both teams entered January with thinner rosters due to a combination of injuries, academic ineligibility and even a mid-season transfer by Raiders forward Chris Stocks to Evangel.
Sophomore forward Steve Wooten totaled 15 points and nine rebounds to pace Mineral Area, which ended the contest hitting just 33 percent from the field and 15-of-18 at the line.
David Kachelries finished with 14 points and four steals, and used a subtle ball fake to swish a 19-footer as the Cardinals pulled even at 17-17 with a brief 7-0 spurt.
Wales executed a high-low assist to Gabe O’Neal at the rim, and Mineral Area remained within 29-25 after Strzala connected from the left corner.
Jarrett answered with a quick pull-up jumper, then chased down an offensive rebound to the sideline and found Fonda to extend the lead. He buried a deep 3-pointer for a 41-33 halftime edge.
Three Rivers began the second half on an 18-6 outburst that included the second 3-pointer by former North County star Hayden Sprenkel.
Jarrett landed back-to-back threes, and matched a driving layup by Kachelries with a cross-over layup before a Fonda triple pushed the margin to 58-39.
Mineral Area trimmed a 70-48 gap with nine straight points by breaking pressure, as Wooten finished three consecutive layups on accurate passes from Brown.
Jarrett halted that momentum, however, with another long-range dagger, and the difference never crept into single digits down the stretch.
Grubb cracked the starting five and provided 11 points, while Brown tallied nine points, six rebounds and six assists for the Cardinals. O’Neal gathered nine rebounds.
The turnover count was even at 13-13. A rematch is scheduled for Feb. 16 in Park Hills.