The 6-foot junior did most of his damage from long range, sinking seven 3-pointers against the Bobcats' zone defense. "He can flat-out shoot the ball," said East Prairie coach Jason Irby. "When he misses an open shot I'm more surprised then when he makes one. When he gets a good look, it's almost like a layup for him."
Sanders came out on fire, scoring 14 points in the first quarter to give East Prairie a surprising 20-19 lead over the quick and athletic Bobcats.
"They have some kids that can shoot -- especially number 12," said Meridian coach Jeff Mandrell. "He had a great night. He made some good head fakes and moves without the ball."
Meridian (12-3) was able to slow the pace in the second quarter, outscoring the Eagles 13-12 to tie the score 32-32 at the break.
The teams battled back and fourth most of the third quarter, but Meridian ended the period on a 9-2 run to take a 47-42 lead. The momentum carried over into the final frame as the Bobcats came up with some big plays to pull away.
The turning point was a 3-pointer by Kyle Gardner with 4:14 left. On Meridian's next possession, Jared Staple was sent to the free throw line. He missed both shots, but teammate Judan Watkins pulled down the rebound and was fouled on the putback attempt.
He hit the first shot and missed the second, but teammate Robert Williams got the putback to make it 60-51. Following an East Prairie turnover, Williams got three attempts down in the paint, eventually scoring to increase the lead to 11. "Our kids have got to block out," said Irby. "We gave them three or four shots at the basket that one time, and eventually, they are going to put one of those in. That was just a killer. We had a four point game and it went to nine in the span of about 30 seconds."
Sanders was fouled putting up a 3-pointer, and sank two of his three free throws. The Eagles then started fouling with 1:37 left in an attempt to get back into the game. Meridian hit enough free throws down the stretch to thwart any comeback attempt, winning the game 69-58.
"We wanted to protect the lead, and we knew we had to make free throws," said Mandrell. "We are glad to come out of here with a win. It was a hard-fought game."
Watkins led Meridian in scoring with 21. Staple had 18 and Williams finished with 12. Behind Sanders' 29, Shoemaker had nine points for the Eagles.
"Our kids played super hard and fought all four quarters," said Irby. "It's just some of the little things execution-wise that still get us. The effort was outstanding. Everybody that played for us played hard, and that's what it takes for us. We're the kind of team that has to play hard every night, or we're not going to be able to compete with the better teams on our schedule."
East Prairie (5-5) played Reidland, Ky., on Saturday.