POPLARVILLE, Miss. — No. 2 Pearl River's run to history is down to 40 minutes.
The undefeated Wildcats needed virtually every minute Monday but ultimately outlasted visiting Southwest for a 76-70 win on Sophomore Night.
"Coach told us every game we play is not going to be a blowout win. Teams are going to come at us harder and harder. We knew every game's not going to be easy," Pearl River sophomore Isaih Moore said. "Sometimes you have to fight to the final buzzer and that's what we did tonight."
With MACJC and Region XXIII tournaments looming in the next two weeks and a potential trip back to Hutchinson, Kansas, for the NJCAA Tournament hanging in the balance, Pearl River coach Chris Oney sees Monday's MACJC South showdown as a large positive — now that the program's 21ststraight win is secured.
"This is a game that will definitely help us next week because it was a playoff type game," he said. "We had to execute, get stops and make free throws."
The Wildcats (21-0 overall, 13-0 MACJC South) opened Sophomore Night with style, opening the scoring with back to back ally-oops.
Moore (Columbia, S.C.; Sumter) threw down the first one on a pass from Tae Hardy (Ellenwood, Ga.; Believe Prep).
Following three free throws from Moore and Brown, Moore threw down another ally-oop, this time getting a helping hand from Kelvin Allen (Olive Branch).
On Pearl River's next possession, Moore zipped a pass to Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi), who threw down a ferocious dunk while being fouled for a 12-7 lead.
Southwest (13-9, 7-6) continued to chip away at PRCC's lead and eventually took a 17-16 advantage with 8:33 remaining in the half following a Wildcat turnover that led to a fastbreak.
Wilkens was fouled heaving up a desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock expired and made all three. Moore then scored on a dunk to push PRCC back ahead 21-17. Following a Southwest basket, Hardy made a bucket and Brown made 1 of 2 free throws to maintain a 24-19 advantage.
Southwest went on another run, however, jumping ahead 32-30 going into halftime.
"I felt good about if we just sat down and guarded them. If we don't miss some of those chippies around the basket, we get out to a six or seven point lead," Oney said. "I didn't think we played bad. I thought we played decent. We just can't make mistakes, especially in this kind of game at this time of year."
The start of the second half opened much like the end of the first, with both teams trading shots. Each team swapped runs, with PRCC leading 36-34 before SMCC jumped back ahead 43-42.
The Wildcats didn't retake the lead until the final 10 minutes of the contest.
Hardy started a mini-run with a slashing layup down the lane. His tacked on free throw pushed PRCC ahead 48-47. Although the Bears made the next basket, Moore made both of his free throws and then Wilkens scored on a put-back to edge the Wildcats back ahead 52-49.
While the Wildcats never trailed again, the final 10 minutes of the contest were anything but easy. In fact, the Wildcats had to earn practically every point for the remainder of the game. Of PRCC's final 24 points, 14 came via the free throw line.
Not only did the Wildcats hit the bulk of their free throws, with Moore, Earl Smith (Jackson; Lanier) and Cameron Smith combining to go 8-for-8 down the stretch, but they also made some huge baskets at critical junctures. After SMCC had pulled within one, 57-56, Earl Smith threaded a pass down the edge of the court to Wilkens in the corner. The former Biloxi star drained a 3 to put PRCC ahead 60-56. Shortly after, Brown drew an and-one and made his free throw to give Pearl River a 63-57 lead. The final highlight reel play of the night from PRCC came courtesy of Hardy as the Southern Miss commit maneuvered through traffic and scored an acrobatic layup to give PRCC a 65-60 advantage.
Moore led PRCC in scoring with 20 points. He also recorded five rebounds and had a team-high three blocks.
Hardy finished second on the team with 17 points. He added three assists and five rebounds.
Brown, Wilkens and Cameron Smith rounded out PRCC's scoring leaders with 14, 13 and 10 points respectively.
Collectively, PRCC shot 81 percent from the free throw line. Their 43 attempts were the second-most this season, only behind their 50 attempts in a 72-70 win at East Central.
In between games, Pearl River honored its sophomore class. The Wildcat upperclassmen on the men's team are: Ahmad Arrington (Collins; Biloxi), Allen, Brown, Hardy, Moore, Smith and Jamarcus Jones (Sardis; North Panola).
Pearl River visits Meridian on Thursday to close out the regular season. The doubleheader is set for a 5:30 p.m. start. The MACJC Tournament will begin the following week at East Mississippi in Scooba.
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.