POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Two teams entered Tuesday night without a loss — only No. 3 Pearl River's unblemished record remained intact after 40 minutes inside Marvin R. White Coliseum.
Visiting Gulf Coast built an early four-point lead, but the Wildcats ripped off 15 unanswered and never looked back, topping the Bulldogs 82-56.
"It was a rivalry game that had everything you want in a rivalry game. We jumped out and played really well. We were getting out in transition, running and being us and then they did a good job of slowing us down with the zone," Pearl River coach Chris Oney said. "I never felt bad about it because we were getting great shots, shots we need to make. When I looked at the scoreboard and saw our defense was still playing the way we have to play to win games, I knew it would be a matter of time until we'd get it going the right way."
Pearl River (13-0 overall, 5-0 MACJC South) opened the night's scoring when Tae Hardy (Ellenwood, Ga.; Believe Prep) stole a pass, spun and hit a streaking Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) for a monster slam.
MGCCC (12-1, 4-1) quickly quieted the crowed by ripping off six straight for a 6-2 lead, but the capacity home crowd was soon brought to its feet by a 15-0 run from Pearl River. Five different Wildcats scored during the stretch with Cameron Smith (Okolona) converting an and-one to open the stretch Isaih Moore (Columbia, S.C.; Sumter) and Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) knocking down 3s to cap the run.
The Bulldogs pulled within four at 23-19 before the Wildcats ripped off 8 of 11 to jump back out 31-22 and take a 33-28 lead into halftime.
The start of the second half started similarly to the first. MGCCC scored the first basket but Pearl River responded immediately. Brown scored six straight to jump-start a 13-0 run for a 46-30 lead.
Gulf Coast went on one more run midway through the second half, but the damage had already been done as the Wildcats proceeded to run away from the visitors down the stretch.
"This game is a game of runs. Coach has been telling us all year it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. We just have to play our game and anything can happen," Brown said. "We have a number of guys who can score the ball, tonight I just happened to be the one."
Brown scored a career-high 21 points and pulled in 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
"We knew they were going to come out hard," Brown said. "I played my best, played my hardest. I really needed this game. I've been kind of struggling all year. Really needed this one."
Three other Wildcats finished in double figures. Hardy scored eight with a team-high five assists. Moore finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, while Jariyon Wilkens scored 10.
The Wildcats registered 15 steals as a club, led by Hardy's four.
Brown's big performance comes just days after the sophomore transfer from Wichita State had verbally committed to Tulsa.
Hurricanes coach Frank Haith and his staff were in attendance last Thursday for PRCC's lopsided victory over Hinds prior to playing Tulane in New Orleans.
"When the coaches came to see me, we talked after the game. I told the coaches I was going to go back to my dorm and talk it over with my parents and decided I'm going there," he said. "I feel like it's the best place for me to start the next phase of my career."
Brown visited Tulsa on his birthday, Dec. 19, and has been in constant contact with the Hurricane staff ever since.
"They said they were going to stay on me because they really wanted me and I just trusted them," Brown said.
Brown entered Tuesday averaging 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds.
Brown is the second PRCC Wildcat in consecutive years to commit to the Hurricanes, joining former PRCC All-American Brandon Rachal.
"I talked to him while I was there," Brown said of Rachal. "He said he really likes the coaches and Coach Haith is a real people person.
"I love a good coach who I can talk to about things not only on the court but off of it as well. He's a good person."
ON THE MOVE
The Wildcats are on the move again in the NJCAA rankings.
After sliding to as low as No. 5 in recent weeks despite an unblemished record, the Wildcats were ranked No. 3 when the NJCAA Top 25 was announced Tuesday afternoon. The third-place ranking matches the program's high-water mark, which was set earlier this season.
The ranking comes after Pearl River battled out a 59-55 win at Jones College and then throttled Hinds 96-58.
PRCC's highest ranking prior to this season was fifth, which was achieved during Week 5 of the 2010-11 season.
The Wildcats have now been ranked for 22 consecutive polls. The run started with the 2018-19 preseason ranking and is a program-best.
WILDCATS IN THE NEWS
Rachal has continued to excel since signing with Tulsa last year. An all-everything from his PRCC days, Rachal was named The American Athletic Conference's Player of the Week Monday after leading the Hurricanes to a 2-0 week. Rachal averaged 18.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.5 assists in wins over East Carolina and Tulane.
Rachal is averaging 15.0 ppg and 6.7 rpg, both tops on Tulsa and among the AAC's leaders.
The Wildcats return to the hardwood Thursday with a road trip to Southwest. The doubleheader in Summit will begin at 5:30 p.m.
HOW TO TUNE IN
All home events are broadcast on PRCCAthletics.com and PRCCMedia.com. Anyone who has an Amazon Fire or Roku device can stream PRCC broadcasts by downloading the "Pearl River CC" Channel from the app store. Conference games can also be heard on WRJW 1320 AM, WRJWRadio.com or by downloading the WRJW app.