DECATUR— No. 20 Pearl River faced its first true test of the season Monday and passed — but just barely.
Facing Coahoma in their first contest of the East Central Shootout, the Wildcats had to rally late and then hold on to top the Tigers 85-81.
"We had to figure some things out tonight," PRCC coach Chris Oney said. "Just about every team is going to give us their best fight. Luckily for me, I have some guys who aren't afraid to fight.
"I thought we showed some grit and determination tonight."
Monday's contest was a first for the 2018-19 Wildcats. Entering the game, PRCC had won by margins of 28, 32, 35 and most recently 62 points, averaging a 40-point differential.
"I thought we hung in there and for the first time we had some adversity, which is good," Oney said. "We had to kind of look around at each other and figure it out.
"We need to continue to build on tonight."
PRCC (5-0) fell into a 13-4 hole right out of the gate and struggled from there to not only make both ends of free throw attempts but also knock down 3-pointers. Coahoma (2-4) also did a good job in the first half of keeping the Wildcats from getting out and running the floor.
Thanks to a multitude of reasons, the Tigers held a strong 42-36 advantage at halftime.
The Wildcats played motivated basketball out of the break and after trading a couple early baskets with CCC ripped off a 13-0 run to surge past the Tigers 53-47. The biggest basket of the run was a Cedric Brim Jr. (Tupelo; Shannon) 3-pointer that gave PRCC its first advantage of the game at 48-47. The long-range shot ended up being PRCC's first and only 3-pointer of the contest.
"C.J. is a returning guy who posed for a (MACJC) championship picture, so he has some championship pedigree in him," Oney said. "Him making that shot didn't surprise me."
Trailing by seven, CCC went back to work. While the Tigers never regained the lead, they did utilize a 10-1 run to tie the game at 81-81 with 1:38 remaining.
Eric Thornton Jr. (Canton; Murrah), Brandon Rachal (Natchitoches, La.; Natchitoches Central) and Kelvin Allen (Olive Branch) combined to make 4 of 6 free throws in the final 1:25 to secure the Wildcats' closest victory of the young season.
There's typically an evolution throughout a lengthy season for most teams. Opponents will attempt to take away one aspect of their game after the next, whittling down a team to see what's left. Last week, PRCC attempted 43 3s in a rout of Louisiana Christian School. Monday, PRCC merely attempted four "and we still won the game," Oney said. "Every coach wants to win by 20 or 30 (by knocking down 3s) but when you can find different ways to win games, that's when you really make progress.
"When teams take things from us, are we able to move onto a Plan B? Today we were."
Oney made sure to also credit two unsung heroes in LaGarious White (Ridgeland; Brandon) and Jerrez Porter (Jackson; Clinton), two role players who came off the bench in the first half and combined for six points.
"White and Porter came into the game when we were struggling and scored," Oney said. "If we don't have those buckets down the stretch then we're down.
"I'm really proud of those guys."
LEADING THE WAY
Thornton led PRCC with 24 points. Brim, Rachal and Jonas James III rounded out the Wildcats' leaders with 13, 11 and 10 points respectively.
PRCC will be back in action Tuesday with a 3 p.m. tip against Mississippi Delta to close out the Wildcats' participation in the East Central Shootout.