POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Pearl River just closed out the first half of the MACJC season 7-0, is third in the NJCAA rankings, boasts the nation's top defense and just beat Meridian 81-59.
Despite the 22-point win inside a packed Marvin R. White Coliseum, Pearl River coach Chris Oney opened his post-game press conference focused on where his Wildcats (15-0 overall, 7-0 MACJC South) can improve — and with good reason.
PRCC opened the game ahead 11-4, built a 21-9 lead before too long and held the Eagles (7-9, 2-5) under double digits until the 8:29 mark of the first half.
Before long, the Wildcats ripped off a 15-2 run and the game seemed like it would be a slam dunk.
That's when the Eagles mounted a counter, climbing back into the contest and by halftime the Wildcats only held a 15-31 advantage.
"We figured it would be this kind of game. We have played some very, very emotional games the last week and a half," Oney said. "These kids look at JUCO Weekly and keep up with it just as much as we do. No matter how much I try to harp about we need to be good, we need to do this, we need to do that, they still knew that we were heavy favorites."
A halftime pep talk from the head coach worked as the Wildcats continued to keep their distance despite a heavily rotated lineup for most of the contest.
Late in the contest Moore had a rim rattling dunk that was followed up by one of the more vicious throwdowns of the season as Tae Hardy (Ellenwood, Ga.; Believe Prep) broke down the right wing on the fastbreak and slammed the ball through the goal for a 76-57 lead.
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the night for PRCC was keeping a fifth straight opponent — and six of seven MACJC foes — under 60 points.
MCC had a chance to break the magic mark in the final seconds, but Jamarcus Jones (Sardis; North Panola) turned away the Eagles' final attempt.
"They didn't give up their fight, but our defensive tenacity just means going extra hard," Jones said. "Defense leads to great offense and we just tried to set the tone defensively."
Hardy continues to lead the way for the Wildcats offensively. The East Carolina transfer led PRCC with 21 points and six assists.
Kelvin Allen (Olive Branch) had a big night off the bench for the Wildcats, scoring 16 points.
"Kelvin has a championship pedigree. He obviously won in high school and was a big part of what we did last year," Oney said. "It's not anything we don't expect from him — if anything we expect more. He's trying. He's fighting.
"Every time I look over at him his eyes are wide open and he's ready to go in."
Rodgerick Brown (Memphis, Tenn.; Cordova) and Moore tied with 12 points. Moore came up one rebound shy of a double-double, finishing with nine.
Oney made a point to highlight the effort of Jones, who led PRCC with 11 rebounds and chipped in seven points.
"On any other team he'd probably start because he's a talent," Oney said. "He's so athletic, quick off the ground and finishes strong. It's important to get him going because in the next three weeks it's going to be important to have guys like him come in."
Jones said he wanted to make the most of his first start.
"When you get to start the game off, the first group has to set the tone," Jones said. "Being able to start on this team is more important than people think."
The Wildcats return to Marvin R. White Coliseum on Thursday to host Copiah-Lincoln. The doubleheader will begin at 5:30 p.m.
"We're back to 0-0," Oney said of completing the first half of the MACJC schedule. "Other teams are going to make adjustments and find times in games where they thought they were successful against us and they're going to try and pound on that. We can't go into the Co-Lin game Thursday thinking it's going to be like it was over there.
"They're going to do some things they think they can take advantage of and we have to be ready."
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.