UTICA, Miss. — Traditions are important at Pearl River and for the men's basketball program, it has become a fond custom of coach Chris Oney to celebrate clinching the MACJC South Division title.
Thanks to Monday's 64-55 victory at Hinds, coupled with Copiah-Lincoln topping Southwest, No. 2 Pearl River can celebrate once again.
The victory marks the sixth time in the last eight years that Pearl River has won at least a share of the South.
"Obviously when we start the year our first goal is to try and be the best team in our division. We focus the first part of the season on preparing so that we can get into the South and compete. This title just means that we're trending in the right direction," Oney said. "I think the South is very competitive every year. If we can be the champs of the South it lets us know we're heading in the right direction to achieve our goals."
The win inside J.D. Boyd Gym is also PRCC's 19th straight win, establishing a new program best. The previous high was 18 straight wins to open a season, set by Oney's 2018-19 Wildcats.
"I'm just super proud of the guys," Oney said. "The ways we've been finding ways to win road games has been something that's not gone unnoticed by the staff."
CONGRATULATIONS @PRCCBasketball!— PRCC Athletics (@PRCCAthletics) February 11, 2020
With help from Copiah-Lincoln tonight, No. 2 Pearl River has clinched the #MACJC South Division Title for the sixth time in eight years!
(*Shared title with Jones College) pic.twitter.com/m6jLmM3vAq
The Wildcats (19-0 overall, 11-0 MACJC South) got off to a slow start. Both teams traded shots early, with Hinds holding the lead until Rodgerick Brown (Memphis, Tenn.; Cordova) gave PRCC a brief 9-8 lead on a couple of free throws.
Hinds scraped back into the lead on a 3-pointer, taking a short 21-19 lead midway through the frame.
After Brown got one point back on a free throw, Smith stole the ball and broke free for a slam to put PRCC back ahead 22-21 with 2:50 remaining. PRCC never relinquished the lead, despite Hinds' best effort.
Following a couple PRCC free throws, Hinds converted an and-one to tie the game 24-24, but Brown sunk a mid-range jumper with 1:40 remaining and Kelvin Allen (Olive Branch) made a clutch 3-pointer with 26 seconds remaining to secure a 29-28 halftime advantage
"It was a South Division game on the road. We were in a situation like at East Central where we handled them pretty well at home. Here they tried to slow the game down some," Oney said. "I felt good with where we were because they only had 28 points at the half. And how many layups of ours went in and came out in the first half? So, I felt good with where we were. If we could just put together a few baskets I thought we'd be fine."
Oney's gut instincts proved to be right once again. In the second half the flow of the game opened up a bit more and the Wildcats took advantage.
Brown continued his strong showing to open the second half, making a basket to open the frame and then hitting 1 of 2 free throws. Following a Hinds (11-7, 5-5) basket, Cameron Smith (Okolona) hit a big 3-pointer to extend PRCC's lead to 35-30 and force Hinds to call a timeout.
The Wildcats didn't let up as the second half progressed. Even after Hinds would make a basket, the Wildcats would respond. In the span of a minute, PRCC's Isaih Moore (Columbia, S.C.; Sumter) slammed home a Hardy assist, then Brown scored a jumper after Moore turned away a Bulldog shot, and then Hardy scored on a spinaround basket to push PRCC's lead to 41-32.
The Wildcats weren't done there. Allen hit another 3-pointer, followed by a Hardy 3-pointer and an Allen dunk to extend PRCC's lead to 55-41 for a game-high lead of 14 points that the Bulldogs couldn't overcome.
With the 68-55 showing, the nation's leading scoring defense held a MACJC opponent under 60 points for the eighth time in 11 games.
"A couple times tonight we forced them to take shots they didn't want to take and we were able to get out with numbers," Oney said. "I love the way we're playing right now because we're finding ways to win even when we're not explosive on offense. We're still finding a way to separate ourselves and win because of our defense."
Brown finished with a team-high 16 points. Hardy scored 14 points with four assists. Allen's spark off the bench was good enough for 12 points. Earl Smith finished with 11 points. Moore and Cameron Smith each scored six points, with Moore collecting nine rebounds and four blocks.
The Wildcats return to the court Thursday for a road test at rival Gulf Coast. PRCC will host Sophomore Night on Monday against Southwest. Both doubleheaders are set for 5:30 p.m. starts.
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.