POPLARVILLE, Miss. — No. 9 Pearl River handed the MACCC's lone undefeated team its first loss Monday night when the Wildcats left little doubt which was the better team inside Marvin R. White Coliseum.
Despite playing with a shortened roster, the Wildcats trailed only momentarily in its 73-58 victory.
"I told the guys after the last the game, 'Man I've been through it. I know I look young and vibrant, but I've been coaching for some years now, and I've been fortunate to win some games and championships that I am very proud of," Pearl River coach Chris Oney said. "I told them after the Co-Lin game that was the proudest of a team that I have ever been. Now I've got to tell them again that this is the proudest of a team I have ever been."
While offenses often get headlines and take the lead in the boxscore, PRCC's defense played a massive role in Monday's victory. The Wildcats (8-1 overall; 8-1 MACCC) held HCC (7-1; 6-1) to 34.4 percent shooting from the floor.
Additionally, the Wildcats limited the Bulldogs to their fewest points of the season and lowest output since PRCC eliminated them from the 2020 Region XXIII Tournament 81-54.
"Everybody has to play together. We play as a team. We play for our coach," PRCC freshman Ankerion Gross said. "Everyone buys in on (Oney's) defensive scheme and we are able to come out with a win like this."
The Wildcats (8-1 overall; 8-1 MACCC) took the game to Hinds early. Jaronn Wilkens (Biloxi) scored the game's first four points and a bucket by Earl Smith (Jackson; Lanier) pushed PRCC's early lead to 6-0. After HCC went on a mini five-point run, the two sides began trading buckets. A Smith 3-pointer gave PRCC a little breathing room at 13-9 and then a Jaronn Wilkens bucket paired with a Smith free throw extended PRCC's lead to 16-11 with 9:58 in the first half.
Joe Cooper (Olive Branch) knocked down a basket to give PRCC a 20-17 advantage and force HCC (7-1; 7-1) to call a timeout with 8 minutes remaining.
Leading 23-17, the Bulldogs went on another run, scoring nine unanswered to surge ahead 26-23. About that time the Wildcats turned to a somewhat unlikely leader in Gross (Sardis; North Panola).
Having shown an aptitude for hitting shots from long range earlier in the game, when PRCC's 23rdpoints came off of a triple from the forward, Gross powered PRCC into the break by scoring 11 of PRCC's final 13 points — with three coming from long-range.
Thanks to Gross' heater, Pearl River took a 36-30 lead into the midway point.
"How about Noodle (Gross)? He came in and scored 16 points in the first half. Here's a kid who didn't play and was kind of buried on the bench, but J'Quan (Ewing) goes out and now he has to step up," Oney said. "It is a testament to our culture that we have built. We tell them Day 1 that you make your own road, and we do this as a team and as a program, not as an individual.
"We do it all together. If one man goes down, it's the next man up. This year here has been nothing short of that motto."
The Wildcats kept the momentum going in the second half. Cameron Brown (Hattiesburg) opened the frame by hitting a jumper and then Kedarius Stampley (Natchez) knocked down his first career 3-pointer to boost PRCC to a 41-30 advantage.
Leading 41-34, PRCC went on a 8-0 run that was punctuated by a Jaronn Wilkens dunk. The PRCC big man caught a pass in the post, spun off his defender and slammed it home. Following two Hinds free throws at the 11:14 mark, Brown seamlessly caught a pass and popped a 3-pointer in front of PRCC's bench for a 52-36 advantage. Minutes later, Brown splashed another 3-pointer off of a drive-and-dish from Smith to give PRCC a 58-40 lead.
With just under 5 minutes remaining in the game, the Wildcats broke out on a rush. Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) served up a ball at the rim to his brother, Jaronn Wilkens, who completed the alley-oop for the 64-47 lead.
With the outcome well in hand, the Coliseum went to another level when Javo Thurman (Magee) nailed a 3-pointer for his first basket since joining the basketball team midway through the season.
"The player of the game, let's cut to the chase, was Javo," Oney said. "The last 3 in front of his buddies on the football team. He has to be the player of the game. I'm so excited for him."
Gross scored not only a team-high but also a career-high 16 points — all coming in the first half. Four other Wildcats scored in double figures. Jaronn Wilkens and Brown scored 15 and 14 points respectively. Both Jariyon Wilkens and Smith added 10.
Jariyon Wilkens led PRCC with eight rebounds, while Smith and Cooper each served up five assists.
The Wildcats are not back in action until Monday, March 15 when they travel to Gulf Coast. The rivalry matchup starts a busy week for PRCC's men as they also host Southwest on Thursday, March 18 and then visit Hinds on Saturday, March 20.
HOW TO TUNE IN
Most games will be broadcast at PRCCMedia.com/Gold but in some instances where multiple teams are at home, PRCC will also have a feed on its auxiliary channel at PRCCMedia.com/Maroon. Fans who have Roku or Amazon Fire devices can also watch the Wildcats on their televisions by downloading the "Pearl River CC" channel from their app store. Home games will also be broadcast on WRJWRadio.com.
By Patrick Ochs
Pearl River Community College
Director of Marketing & Communications