POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. - With a week to prepare, the Raiders got seven ties and 11 lead changes against the No. 3 team in the country.
Mineral Area didn't take the lead for good until midway through the second half to beat Three Rivers 71-60 on Saturday at the Libla Family Sports Complex. The Cardinals' biggest lead of the game was 12 points in the closing minutes.
"I thought we were really well prepared, and they were still able to do some of the stuff they do. We even knew what they were running whenever they whenever they did that," Three Rivers coach Brian Bess said.
Down 36-32 to start the second half, The Raiders (8-8, 2-6 Region XVI) made a pair of free throws to retake the lead near the 15-minute mark.
Soon after, Three Rivers' Keith Kiner, who led the Raiders with 13 points and nine rebounds, brought a roar from the crowd with a follow-slam. At the other end of the court, he stripped the ball from Malevy Leons, and it bounced off Leons's knee and out of bounds for a turnover. On Three Rivers' next defensive possession, Jonathan Ninkingira drew a charge.
"We knew a lot more of their plays. We spent the whole week trying to recover, practicing, learning their plays, stuff like that," Kiner said. "Trying to work hard and make sure we were fully prepared for this game."
While the Raiders were getting stops, the offense, which shot 36.5%, wasn't converting at the other end, Mineral Area was able to keep a small lead until Ninkingira tied the game one final time with a free throw near the 12-minute mark.
The Cardinals answered with a 3, a follow-slam, and a fast-break in a minute to go ahead by seven.
Mineral Area (15-0, 6-0) came out pressing after a Three Rivers timeout and got a pair of turnovers to take the first double-digit lead of the game with 10 minutes to go.
"They made some really good plays. In the halfcourt, we had a few slipups that we shouldn't have let happen, but it is a game of runs," Kiner said.
The Cardinals then put in a lineup where no player on the court had scored more than five points, and Three Rivers held that group scoreless for more than 3 minutes.
However, the Raiders only got one basket themselves, a 3 by Brahm Harris, who finished with 12 points.
Mineral Area's leading scorers Keonte Jones and Leons, who finished with 22 and 19 points respectively, reentered after getting a breather and the Cardinals still ahead by seven.
About a minute later, Leons finished a reverse layup to get the Cardinals back ahead by 10 with 5 minutes remaining.
The Cardinals worked the shot clock and leaned on the Raiders, allowing nine points in the final five minutes.
"That's what they are the best at, I think. They are really good when they have the lead. They do a great job of taking good shots and taking care of the ball," Bess said.
Three Rivers had three steals in the game.
Near the 2-minute mark, the Raiders hadn't made a dent in Mineral Area's lead, and the crowd started filtering out.
"We definitely have to work harder," Kiner said. "We have to give it all we got. It's coming up toward the end of the season. We're about to go into the tournament, so there are some things we have to find out and change to become a better team."
Kevin Jones had 11 points for Three Rivers after going 3 for 6 on 3-pointers.
Mineral Area shot 49.2% from the field, nearly 13% better than the Raiders, and also had 50 points in the paint compared to 24 for Three Rivers.
The Raiders had a much better start the second time facing Mineral Area and didn't trail by more than one possession until the final minute of the first half. In the first matchup, the Raiders trailed by 16 at the half, and a second-half comeback fell short as they lost by 13.
The Raiders led by as much as six points in the first half following a burst by Mandell Campbell, who finished with 10 points.
After Jones put the Raiders in front with a 3 with under 12 minutes on the clock, Campbell got a putback, and on the next possession, the Raider big man got another offensive rebound and threw down a monster slam to put the Raiders ahead 21-15.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic