By JEFF McNIELL ~ Assistant Sports Editor
ST. LOUIS -- All of the sudden, cold-shooting Poplar Bluff seemingly can't miss from the outside.

"I could even pitch it out to (junior varsity player) Kevin Hutson sitting on the bench and he'll hit one," senior forward Tyler Hansbrough joked.

Hutson is one of the few Mules not knocking down long shots these days.

Second-ranked Poplar Bluff got 3-pointers from five different players - and eight in all for the second straight game - to knock off No. 7 Lafayette 71-56 in front of a capacity crowd Saturday afternoon.

"It shows you how we can play," Hansbrough said. "If we can come in here in front of their home crowd, it really shows us how good we can be."

The Mules (6-2) went to the perimeter to complete a two-day sweep of two of the state's top-ranked teams. Less than 24 hours after hitting eight 3s in a 30-point blowout of Dexter, ranked fourth in Class 4, Poplar Bluff was 8-for-14 from downtown against the Lancers.

Reserves Allan Spencer and James Dixon combined for five 3s to help loosen the inside for Hansbrough, who led the way with 27 points and eight rebounds.

"It's real noticeable that our guards are starting to play better," Poplar Bluff coach John David Pattillo said. "Our guys are coming in off the bench and playing well, and we need that."

A rematch of last year's Class 5 state semifinal - which the Mules also won - was even most of the way. There were 10 lead changes, two ties and despite falling behind by nine midway through the second quarter, Lafayette (6-2) rallied to retake the lead midway through the third.

That's when the defending state champions took control.

With Poplar Bluff trailing 41-40, Spencer canned a 3-pointer from the right wing to spark a 15-2 run that carried over into the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. Spencer had a jumper and transition layin sandwiched by a monster Hansbrough slam as the Mules went ahead 55-43 with 6:32 left.

Hansbrough, whose putback dunk at the end of the second quarter was waved off by the officials, scowled at the crowd after taking flight and throwing down a hard one-handed fastbreak dunk.

"I was feeling bad because that's the only one I had, so I felt like I would just crush it and break the whole thing," Hansbrough said. "I wanted to bring the roof down with it."

Ben Hansbrough went 12-for-15 at the free-throw line en route to 17 points for the Mules, who were 11-for-16 (68.8 percent) from the field in the second half. Spencer scored 12 points and Dixon hit three 3-pointers for nine points.

Austin Peay recruit Landon Shipley scored a game-high 28 points for the Lancers. Missouri-bound guard Matt Lawrence had eight.

Pattillo met Lafayette coach Dave Porter on the hardwood for the first time since the two had an emotional exchange on the Hearnes Center court in March after the Mules clinched the school's first basketball state title. Pattillo said squaring off against his former high school coach, mentor and good friend hasn't lost meaning over the years.

"Never. It's always special," Pattillo said. "After you lose your father, and that was someone very close to me, you've got somebody there that kind of fills that void. That's what he's always been to me."

Pattillo, a former Lafayette assistant under Porter, spent several minutes beforehand mingling with old friends. He even had a surprising chat with Porter, who coached at Poplar Bluff from 1978-85, when he walked within several feet of the Mules' bench late in the fourth quarter.

"He was doing what he normally does. He was complaining about the referees," Pattillo said with a laugh.

The Mules threatened to pull away early in the second quarter when Dixon connected from beyond the arc and Ben Hansbrough converted a baseline drive while being fouled to make it 22-16. But Lafayette answered with baskets from four different players - capped by a Cartez Parker layup - to pull even at 24-all.

Tyler Hansbrough nailed a 3 from the top of the key and Dixon made a wide-open trey from the right wing to give Poplar Bluff a nine-point lead late in the second quarter. But the Lancers again rallied, this time with a Parker jumper and Lawrence 3-pointer to make it 34-30 at the half.

Jared Kreienkamp completed the Lancers' comeback with a short jumper that gave them a one-point lead with four minutes left in the third quarter.

"They did a nice job of getting miss-matches at times and making it tough on us on our defensive end," Pattillo said. "They kept it out of Tyler's hands some and we kept it out of Tyler's hands some, but all in