CLINTON, Miss. — No. 2 Pearl River dispatched Southern-Shreveport 71-58 on Tuesday to open the Region XXIII Tournament.
What stood out to MACJC Coach of the Year Chris Oney, however, was the potential learning experience provided by the quarterfinal matchup inside Mississippi College's A.E. Wood Coliseum.
"I'm sure when I go back and watch the film we'll play better than what I'm imagining we played. We held them to 58 points and they scored some points late so they were in the 40s in the end," Oney said. "We almost lost the Jones game, we almost lost the Southwest game, we almost lost the Northeast game. Teams when we get them down are going to press, run, jump and do things. We can't make the mistakes we keep making and think we're going to get away with it.
"We have to be smarter."
With the win, Pearl River advances to play Hinds at 3 p.m. Thursday in the tournament's semifinal round.
Hinds defeated East Mississippi 70-64 to advance to Thursday.
PRCC swept Hinds in the regular season, winning 96-58 at home and 68-55 in Utica.
"I said when I watched Hinds in the state tournament, that looks like a completely different Hinds team. Even today, that didn't look like the same Hinds team we've played," Oney said. "We are going to have to play smarter and play harder — and play smarter again."
Pearl River (26-0 overall) jumped out to a commanding 24-5 lead against the Jaguars. After Rodgerick Brown (Memphis, Tenn.; Cordova) hit two free throws seconds into the contest, Cameron Smith (Okolona) slammed home two points.
SUSLA (16-8) hit a 3-pointer, but Tae Hardy (Ellenwood, Ga.; Believe Prep) responded with one for PRCC. The long-range shot started a 9-0 run that included two baskets from Brown and a coast-to-coast bucket from Hardy.
After a basket from SUSLA, Isaih Moore (Columbia, S.C.; Sumpter) scored in the post to start a 11-0 run. Smith converted an and-one opportunity and then Moore made two free throws. Following another basket from Brown, the Tulsa commit crashed the lane and dished a backdoor pass to Jaronn Wilkens (Biloxi). The freshman finished the play to push PRCC's lead to 24-5.
The Jags started to chip into PRCC's lead, pulling within 11 points twice, but the Wildcats closed the half with a 5-0 run to take a 40-24 advantage into the break.
The Jaguars scored six of the first eight points in the second half to pull within 12 and cut PRCC's lead to 44-33 on a 3-pointer.
The Jags never went away despite trailing by double figures most of the second half.
After SUSLA cut it to 13, 49-36, Jaronn Wilkins hit another 3 to push PRCC's lead to 52-36 and force a timeout.
The Jags made the most of the stoppage, making a 9-2 run.
Brown made a basket in traffic, but SUSLA made four straight to cut PRCC's lead to nine points for the first time since early in the game.
Hardy responded for Pearl River, going coast-to-coast after a Smith block and then making another basket to give PRCC a 58-45 lead.
SUSLA pulled within 10, 65-55, with 3:23 remaining, but the Wildcats scored six of the game's final nine points to seal the victory.
"I still think we played hard. I looked up at the clock for a long time and they only had five points," Oney said. "And then they go on a run after a shot we didn't have to take. If we're going to finish this off, those are the things we're going to have to quit doing because it's going to cost us."
Brown led PRCC in the scorebook, accounting for 12 points in the first half and finishing with 19 points. He added six rebounds.
"He played well and scored some timely baskets," Oney said.
Hardy added 15 points with three assists. Moore came up two rebounds shy of another double-double, finishing the game with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Jaronn Wilkens had a strong night for PRCC, finishing with nine points.
On the other half of the bracket, Northwest upset Northeast 81-66 and Jones College defeated LSU-Eunice 67-52. The winner of Northwest and Jones will play the winner of PRCC-Hinds at 7 p.m. Friday for an automatic bid to the NJCAA Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
HOW TO TUNE IN
All 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.