SCOOBA, Miss. — Challenge accepted.
"All you get for going 22-0 is a t-shirt," Pearl River coach Chris Oney said after the Wildcats' victory in their regular season finale a week ago. "To get a ring, we have to win this other thing."
After Thursday night, it's time to ante up.
The Wildcats took it to No. 17 Northeast early and closed out strong, defeating the Tigers 79-69 to win the program's 17th MACJC Championship.
"I guess they took me up on it," Oney laughed during his post-game interview. "… We started the game out on fire. We were playing well, moving well, getting the shots we wanted and getting into the spots we wanted.
"We were ready to play."
Thursday's championship marked Oney's second in three seasons.
"I try my best to stay in the moment," Oney said when asked about the magnitude of two MACJC Championships sandwiched around last year's Region XXIII Title. "I know one day I'm going to look back on all of this and think about exactly what we all accomplished these few years.
"It's incredible. It really is."
The Wildcats are now 25-0 and remain the nation's lone unbeaten. NEMCC fell to 24-2 with the defeat.
OFF AND RUNNING
Pearl River opened the game strong, scoring the first seven points. Cameron Smith (Okolona) hit a 3-pointer and then he scored on a put-back on PRCC's next possession. Tae Hardy (Ellenwood, Ga.; Believe Prep) capped the run with a jumper.
Following an Isaih Moore (Columbia, S.C.; Sumter) basket Northeast went on a 7-0 run to pull within one, 10-9.
Kelvin Allen (Olive Branch) hit a 3 and then scored underneath to push PRCC's lead to 15-9 but the Tigers scored 11 of the next 14 points — powered by three 3-pointers — to take their first lead of the contest at the 9:18 mark.
The Tigers never led again.
The Wildcats responded immediately, ripping off 13 of the next 15 points to jump back ahead 31-22.
During the run, Hardy hit two 3-pointers, a jumper in traffic and a free throw following a technical on the NEMCC bench.
The Tigers stormed back to tie the game at 34-34 with 1:55 remaining in the first half but Earl Smith (Jackson; Lanier) scored on a spinning layup and then a stop-and-pop hook in the lane right before the buzzer to give the Wildcats a 38-34 lead going into halftime.
A GAME OF RUNS
The run carried over into the second half as Pearl River pushed its lead to 48-34 thanks to two baskets from Moore, a Rodgerick Brown (Memphis, Tenn.; Cordova) jumper, a Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) putback and two Hardy free throws.
Northeast went on a 7-0 run to pull within seven, 48-41, but it was really the last time the Tigers seriously threatened PRCC's advantage.
Moore sparked the next PRCC run with a dunk after a ball tipped away from Hardy landed right in the St. John's signee's hands. The 6-foot-10 forward spun and threw it through the cylinder for PRCC's 49th and 50th points of the game.
"Basketball is a game of runs," Hardy said. "We tried to control the game and control what we can control. We stuck it out on offense and defense."
The dunk forced NEMCC to call a timeout but PRCC wasn't done. Two minutes later Moore hit both free throws, Brown came away with the ball from a scrum and scored and then Cameron Smith hit a jumper — which triggered another timeout.
The two teams traded baskets for the next couple of minutes, with NEMCC pulling within 10, thanks to a couple more 3-pointers.
Ahead 72-61 with 3 minutes remaining, Brown slammed home an alley-oop pass from Ahmad Arrington (Biloxi) and then scored an easy layup on a home run pass from Hardy after a Tiger turnover at the 2:01 mark. The streak, coupled with a putback from Cameron Smith, all but ended any upset aspirations from the Tigers.
"We all just bought in to whatever Coach tells us to do," Cameron Smith said. "It all started on defense."
THE ROAD TO GOLD
The Wildcats qualified for the championship game after defeating Itawamba 78-57 in the quarterfinals and Jones College 90-86 in overtime in the semifinals.
Thursday's Championship showdown marked the third time in three years that the Wildcats and Tigers have met in the postseason. Pearl River defeated NEMCC 86-79 in the 2017-18 Region XXIII Tournament semifinals and then knocked off the Tigers 78-43 in last year's Region XXIII Tournament quarterfinals.
MACJC COACH OF THE YEAR
Prior to the game, Oney was given his MACJC Coach of the Year award. MACJC Commissioner Steven Martin and Pearl River President Dr. Adam Breerwood presented Oney with the plaque.
All 10 Wildcats who stepped on the court Thursday scored at least two points.
Moore earned his 11th double-double of the season, pulling in a game-high 16 rebounds with 13 points. He also had two assists and two blocks. Hardy scored a game-high 19 points and also dished out a team-best five assists to go along with two rebounds.
Brown finished third on the team with 11 points. He also recorded six rebounds.
Cameron Smith recorded a double-double of his own as the former MHSAA State Champion recorded 11 rebounds and 10 points.
Earl Smith rounded out PRCC's leading scorers with 10 points.
Jamarcus Jones (Sardis; North Panola) recorded five rebounds in nearly five minutes against his former team.
In addition to out-scoring NEMCC, Pearl River also won the battle on the boards, out-rebounding the Tigers 51-33.
Pearl River will open the Region XXIII Tournament at 7 p.m. Tuesday against Southern University-Shreveport. The entire tournament will be held at Mississippi College in Clinton.
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.