CLINTON, Miss. (PRCC Athletics) - No. 2 Pearl River left little doubt who should be in the Region XXIII Championship game after claiming a lopsided 81-54 victory over Hinds inside Mississippi College’s A.E. Wood Coliseum on Thursday.
“Coach told us to get out and run in transition because he didn’t think they’d be able to get back and defend us, so the whole plan was to run and try to speed up the pace of the game,” Pearl River forward Isaih Moore said.
In the day’s earlier matchup, Jones College defeated Northwest 79-69 to advance to the championship game.
Friday’s Championship Game against the Bobcats is set for a 7 p.m. start.
“I know they’re going to be ready to play. Even if it wasn’t for an automatic bid to Hutch, they’re going to fight and be ready to play,” Pearl River coach Chris Oney said. “We’re going to enjoy this win and be ready for tomorrow night.”
LOOKING TO MAKE HISTORY
In addition to playing for an automatic bid to the NJCAA Tournament, Pearl River (27-0) is looking to make history Friday night. According to NJCAA records, no MACJC team has ever qualified for the NJCAA Tournament with an undefeated record.
Hinds (16-9) looked to make a point early in the semifinal contest, jumping out to a 6-2 lead.
Moore (Columbia, S.C.; Sumter) hit a long jumper and then an and-one to pull PRCC within one, 8-7. Following a couple HCC free throws, Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) nailed a 3 to tie the game 10-10.
Hinds responded with a 3 of its own but the Wildcats answered with a 16-1 run to jump ahead 26-14.
After a Tae Hardy (Ellenwood, Ga.; Believe Prep) free throw, Cameron Smith (Okolona) scored his second putback of the first half.
Hardy then drove down the lane before dishing a pass around a defender to Moore, who slammed the ball home for the go-ahead 15-14 basket.
PRCC only built on its lead from there as Moore converted an and-one and Jaronn Wilkens (Biloxi) scored on a layup to force a HCC timeout.
Hardy made an and-one and then Earl Smith (Jackson; Lanier) caught a pass from Rodgerick Brown (Memphis, Tenn.; Cordova) and hit a long-range dagger for the 26th point of the run.
After HCC worked within seven, down 29-22, PRCC went on another run, scoring 14 of the final 19 points of the half to take a 43-27 lead into the break. During the run, Jamarcus Jones (Sardis; North Panola) emerged as a force in the post in place of Moore, scoring two put-backs and adding another bucket.
The Wildcats continued their run early in the second half, opening the frame on a 6-0 run thanks to two baskets from Moore and a floater in the lane by Hardy.
The Bulldogs pulled within 15, 51-35, but the Wildcats once again responded with a 7-0 run courtesy of a Jaronn Wilkens putback, two Hardy free throws and a 3-pointer from Earl Smith to go back ahead 58-35.
The Bulldogs never really mustered much of a threat to the Wildcats’ lead the rest of the way as Pearl River’s eventually extended the gap to 30 points at the end.
The highlight of the final minutes of the semifinal showdown came with 11 minutes remaining when Cameron Smith dished a behind-the-back pass to Jones in the paint for a thunderous slam.
Jones finished with 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
“We talked all year about him, and about me having confidence in everybody on the roster to help win a game. I brag on 2-3 a lot because he could be starting on any team in the state, but he comes off the bench for us,” Oney said. “Every day in practice he works his tail off and always has a good attitude. He’s never complained. That’s what happens when you have that kind of mindset.”
The victory was PRCC’s third this season over the Bulldogs after the Wildcats swept them in the regular season 96-58 and 68-55.