POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Thursday's MACJC contest against Southwest was in some was reminiscent of No. 9 Pearl River's rivalry game two nights earlier at Gulf Coast. Like the game in Perkinston, PRCC struggled to find its rhythm early. And just like in that previous game, once the Wildcats got rolling Thursday, there wasn't any stopping them as they eventually routed the Bears 85-57.
"When we got down 20-8 at Gulf Coast I looked down the bench in those guys eyes and I saw a different look. I didn't see a look like we were in trouble. It was a look like, just give us time," PRCC coach Chris Oney said. "Even tonight when things weren't going our way, I looked down the bench at those guys and I saw the same look. I think I have a bunch that's really buying in and listening to what we're saying."
The Wildcats (15-0 overall, 6-0 MACJC) pushed their undefeated mark to one of the best starts in program history. PRCC is also the last undefeated team among its NJCAA Division I peers.
Jerrez Porter (Jackson; Clinton) scored the game's first basket on a layup but six minutes later Southwest (10-5, 2-4) pulled ahead briefly at 7-6. Four minutes later, Southwest held a 13-11 advantage. While the visitors later tied the game at 28-28 with 2:34 remaining in the half, they never led PRCC the remainder of the contest.
"We just did what they had to do for us to remain undefeated," Oney said.
Instead of chewing out his team for the 36-30 halftime lead, Oney said he tried to pump faith back into the room and reassured his players their undefeated record would be safe if they took his message to heart.
"I told them we're fine. I told them I'm happy to be up. For what we've experienced the last 20 days, the games we have had to play and the grind we had to play through, I was happy to see we were still fighting," Oney said. "I knew it was only a matter of time until we started to make a few. I was just happy the energy and effort were still there even though the scoreboard didn't show that. "
The Wildcats rewarded their coach by scoring eight of the first 10 points out of the break, including a Kelvin Allen (Olive Branch) dunk on a home run pass from Eric Thornton Jr. (Canton; Murrah), and a 3-pointer from LSU transfer Brandon Rachal (Natchitoches, La.; Natchitoches Central) that prompted a quick timeout with PRCC suddenly ahead 46-32.
Once the Wildcats started feeling it again offensively, the good vibes never subsided. Even in the final minutes, PRCC didn't lose its momentum — on both ends of the court.
Thornton converted an and-one in the paint to push PRCC ahead 78-55 with 90 seconds left and shortly after Allen tracked Southwest all the way back to the other end of the court and got a big block under the basket.
The night was punctuated by an alley-oop from Cedric Brim Jr. (Tupelo; Shannon) to Thornton where he actually out-jumped a teammate to throw down the dunk as time expired.
One of PRCC's unsung heroes this season has been LaGarious White (Brandon). Oney has often deployed White to give his team a jolt and Thursday was no different as the freshman guard scored all 14 of his points in the second half.
White originally signed with Southwest but transferred after a semester.
"So this game meant a little bit more to him," Oney said. "I knew he would have a little extra sauce tonight."
Rachal was the player Oney and the Wildcats have come to see on a nightly basis. The versatile transfer led PRCC with 19 points and added five assists, nine rebounds and a block.
"If you would have heard how I fussed at him at halftime, you would have thought those numbers were reversed and he was in the negatives," Oney said. "Every night we can talk about how Brandon Rachal impacted the game in some kind of way. He got us going in the second half and hit some huge shots to push us over."
Brim was second on the team with 18 points. Thornton picked up another double-double with 16 points and 11 boards. He also led PRCC with six assists. Chris Agbo (Jos, Nigeria) led PRCC with 12 rebounds and added eight points.
BACK IN ACTION
The Wildcats return to the court Monday with a road trip to Meridian. They won't return home until a Feb. 4 tilt against East Central. All MACJC games are broadcast on WRJW 1320 AM and WRJWRadio.com. Home games are also streamed on PRCCAthletics.com.