POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The MACCC crown will remain in Poplarville.
With the regular season wrapping up Saturday, the No. 9 Pearl River men's basketball team has clinched its share of a second straight MACCC Championship and third in four years.
At 10-1 on the season, the Wildcats clinched the MACCC South Division title via a weighted formula that took into account winning percentage and games played.
Additionally, because the MACCC Tournament was canceled due to COVID-19, the Wildcats share the MACCC Championship with the North Division winner.
"LeBron (James) talked about this last one and said it was the most special championship because of everything he had to endure. When I heard him say that I didn't really understand — but I do now," Pearl River coach Chris Oney said. "With this COVID, no fans in stands and everything else, we had to overcome a lot.
"It was special that the guys were able to stay together and perform the way they have."
18 STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
Regardless of the fine print, the Wildcats are excited to once again claim a share in the MACCC Championship. The achievement marks PRCC's 18th league championship.
"They're all special, not only for me but for all the kids we share it with, their families and the college," Oney said of PRCC's recent run of success. "Anytime that we can hang a championship banner it shows a lot of hard work and togetherness has taken place.
"I'm happy for the college, happy for the administration, and happy for all kids and their families."
Like most teams in the country, the Wildcats' 2021 regular season was unlike any other. In order to get to this point, PRCC had to maneuver the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, adapt to schedule changes and remain focused on the task at hand.
Fresh off of a 28-0 record in 2019-20 and the league's first-ever No. 1 seed in the NJCAA Tournament, PRCC pushed its winning streak to 33 games by winning their first five contests of the year. Even after the lone blemish in two seasons, the Wildcats quickly regrouped and won their next five.
"It just shows how the kids embodied everything we talked about in our very first meeting," Oney said. "With all the uncertainties surrounding season, all the things that could possibly happen, we still had to stay focused on the job in front of us — no matter what it was.
"I think they all embodied that as a team and as a program."
Despite often chasing history, Oney's squad never wilts under the big lights. He says that's because his players know to be present and live in the moment rather than looking ahead at potential headlines.
"We preach all the time that any possession can win or lose a game," he said.
We don't look too much ahead; we just stay focused on what's in front of us."
The No. 1 seed Wildcats now turn their attention to the Region XXIII Tournament, where they will open Thursday against the winner of a play-in game. Full playoff details will be updated on PRCCAthletics.com once announced by the MACCC.
The winner of the tournament will earn an automatic bid to the NJCAA Tournament. PRCC has claimed the last two Region titles. Oney is optimistic his Wildcats will make it 3-for-3.
"Before the shutdown I think we were trending in the right direction. Everyone was comfortable in their roles, knowing what they needed to do as individuals and as a team," he said. "I think we were playing our best basketball. We have to continue to be mentally involved and be thinking about what we have to do.
"I thought that was very important."
BY THE NUMBERS
Heading into the tournament, the Wildcats are averaging 78.1 points per game and surrendering only 63.8. Four Wildcats are scoring in double figures. Jaronn Wilkens (Biloxi) and Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) lead the team, scoring at 14.6 and 14.4 clips. Cameron Brown (Hattiesburg) and Earl Smith (Jackson; Provine) aren't far behind at 12.6 and 12.4 respectively.
The Wildcats have really excelled on the glass. J'Quan Ewing (Clarkville, Tenn.; Kenwood) leads the team, pulling in 7.1 rebounds per game. Jariyon is second at 7. Smith leads PRCC in assists with 4.3 per contest.
By: Patrick Ochs
Pearl River Community College
Director of Marketing & Communications