SCOOBA, Miss. — For most of their record-setting season, it has been one of No. 2 Pearl River's big transfers who has led the Wildcats to victory. In Monday's MACJC Tournament opener, it was sophomores Kelvin Allen (Olive Branch) and Cameron Smith (Okolona) who rose to the occasion.
With the Wildcats needing to overcome a slow start, it was the lone carryovers from last year's NJCAA Tournament team who led the charge and helped carry Pearl River past Itawamba 78-57 inside East Mississippi's Keyes T. Currie Coliseum.
Pearl River (23-0 overall) will now play Jones College at 3 p.m. Wednesday for the chance to play in the championship game. The Bobcats beat host East Mississippi in Game 1 of the tournament, 70-65.
Itawamba (9-14) was the aggressor early on Monday, capitalizing on PRCC misses and in turn making shots of their own.
Pearl River didn't actually lead in the game until the 13:46 mark when Smith nailed a 3-pointer off an assist from Tae Hardy (Ellenwood, Ga.; Believe Prep) to go ahead 11-10.
ICC quickly regained the lead, building a 15-12 advantage.
Then Allen entered the contest for the first time.
"Before the game I told him now is your time," Pearl River coach Chris Oney said. "This is what you're here for, now you have to step up in these kinds of moments."
Allen responded, turning in his best performance of the season.
ICC initially stretched its lead to 18-12 — then Allen caught fire.
The Olive Branch native hit his first of four 3-pointers to pull within three, 18-15. Allen hit another 3-pointer on PRCC's next offensive possession, tying the game and forcing an ICC timeout.
PRCC forced an ICC turnover and Jaronn Wilkens (Biloxi) scored on a layup to push PRCC back ahead 20-18. Following an Earl Smith (Jackson; Provine) layup, Hardy nailed a 3-pointer off of a nifty assist from Allen and the Wildcats were running, building a 25-18 advantage to cap a 13-0 run.
"Coming into the game my teammates told me the playoffs are starting and they need me to step up," Allen said. "I give this whole game to my teammates. They found me when I was open and looked for me."
PRCC used the run to take a 39-29 lead into halftime.
SECOND HALF RUN
The Wildcats only added to their advantage in the second half thanks to a defensive wrinkle deployed by Oney.
"Coach (Grant) Pate has been around for a while. I knew he wanted to slow the game down and keep it in the 60s," Oney said. "If we can get up to the mid-60 range, then I knew we could back off and do something he wasn't expecting, which was to play zone."
The switch worked as PRCC only added to its lead in the second half and in the final minutes the Wildcats closed out the victory with a 12-3 run.
Smith and Allen led the way for the Wildcats, scoring 16 points apiece. Allen's scoring surge came largely on 4 of 5 shooting from 3-point range.
"Kelvin Allen is somebody I've been really tough on because I expect a lot out of him. He has started almost the entire time he's been here, but the way he was playing is unacceptable. I told him, you've been around me long enough to know I don't hold grudges, I'm all about the next day," Oney said. "…I'm proud of them and happy for them."
Hardy finished with 15 points and led PRCC with five assists. Isaih Moore (Columbia, S.C.; Sumter) earned another double-double, scoring 10 points with a team-high 10 rebounds. He also swatted five ICC shots.
Collectively, the Wildcats shot 58.2 percent from the floor while holding ICC to 39.3 percent. PRCC also out-scored ICC in the paint 40-26.
HOW TO TUNE IN
All MACJC Tournament and Region XXIII games will be 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. The games can also be heard on WRJW 1320 AM, WRJWRadio.com or by downloading the WRJW app.