CLINTON, Miss. — All season long, Pearl River coach Chris Oney has told anyone who would listen that his Wildcats were the best to ever play in Region XXIII.
The Wildcat head man now has plenty of evidence to back up what he already knew.
Looking for a second straight automatic bid to the upcoming NJCAA Tournament, No. 2 Pearl River made a statement Friday night by defeating Jones College 75-62 inside Mississippi College's A.E. Wood Coliseum. The victory secured PRCC's second straight Region XXIII title.
"I'm just going to say it and I'm not going to bite my tongue saying it — that's why this is the best team to ever play in Region XXIII," Oney said. "I think of us as the ultimate team. Every night it's a different guy who steps up to help us win games — every game. Go all the way back to our scrimmages and we haven't lost a game.
"Find me another team across the region that has done what this team has done. This is the greatest team to ever play in Region XXIII."
Friday's win was PRCC's fourth straight over Jones College after the Wildcats swept the regular season home-and-home and then eliminated the Bobcats from the MACJC Tournament.
"That's a very good Jones team. I don't know that there are many other teams in the county who could have beaten them four times," Oney said, "and this team did it a different way every single time. I'm just proud of them."
The win also makes Pearl River (28-0 overall) the first MACJC school to enter the NJCAA Tournament undefeated.
"We have been working for this our whole career," Brown said. "Our coaches put us in this position to be successful."
28 - ��— Pearl River CC Men's Basketball (@PRCCBasketball) March 7, 2020
Region 23 Champions ✅
This team is the best team to EVER suit it up in Region 23 and the state of Mississippi, no ������
S/O to the @HutchTourney, here come the undefeated Pearl River Wildcats!!!! #RRR pic.twitter.com/AK2zejvBb8
Cameron Smith (Okolona) opened the game's scoring with a baseline bucket but Jones quickly surged ahead 10-6.
PRCC kept within reach, 10-8, thanks to an Isaih Moore (Columbia, S.C.; Sumter) jumper off an inbounds pass.
After Jones scored a jumper and converted one free throw the Wildcats made a 7-2 run to tie the game 15-15. Following an Earl Smith (Jackson; Lanier) 3-pointer, Jamarcus Jones (Sardis; North Panola) and Tae Hardy (Ellenwood, Ga.; Believe Prep) each made free throws and Moore tied it at the 10:07 mark by knocking down both of his freebies.
JC briefly took the lead 17-15 before the Wildcats jumped past their MACJC South Division foe 22-17. During the run, Rodgerick Brown (Memphis, Tenn.; Cordova) made 5 of 6 free throw attempts and then scored on a power move in the post.
After Hardy scored a long jumper he hit Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) for an alley-oop off a fast break to extend PRCC's lead to 26-19.
JC made 3 of 4 free throws before Cameron Smith made the most of an and-one opportunity to give the Wildcats a 29-22 lead.
Following a Jones basket, Cameron Smith hit a jumper and Brown made a basket to give the Wildcats a 33-24 advantage, which was their largest lead of the contest to that point with under 3 minutes remaining in the half.
Although JC closed the half on a 6-0 run, Pearl River held a 35-32 advantage at the break.
Jariyon Wilkins hit a 3 early in the second frame to give PRCC a 38-34 lead and later scored under the basket for a 40-36 lead.
JC pulled within two before Moore powered home a putback for a 42-38 lead.
Jones took its first lead since midway through the first around the 16-minute mark but PRCC quickly responded. Brown made a mid-range jumper and after Jones hit another basket, Brown scored on another putback to give the Wildcats a 47-46 lead.
Jones scored five unanswered to go ahead 51-47 and force a Pearl River timeout.
Despite the sudden deficit, PRCC was undeterred.
"The key has been the same all year: Resilience," Oney said. "When we fell down four things weren't going great and we weren't playing great but when I called the timeout I saw the look in their eyes and I knew we'd be OK."
The Wildcats quickly responded to go back ahead 52-51 on a Moore and-one and a Jaronn Wilkens (Biloxi) layup.
After a Bobcat 3, Earl Smith caught a pass from down low and knocked down a long ranger dagger of his own to give the Wildcats the 55-54 lead at 9:13.
Hardy scored on PRCC's next three possessions, converting an off balance layup and then two jumpers to give the Wildcats a 61-54 advantage with 5:25 remaining.
Hardy and Brown scored the next two baskets for Pearl River. Hardy hit a baseline jumper off of an in-bound pass with only two seconds remaining and then Brown backed down a defender in the post, spun, and hit a jumper.
Following two free throws from JC, the Wildcats narrowly beat a fullcourt press only to see Brown drive to the basket and score for the 67-58 lead.
"We went to zone about that time, which is something I thought they wouldn't be expecting and I knew we were two or three stops away from getting it done," Oney said.
Moore gave Pearl River its largest lead of the game with 2:35 remaining after hitting two free throws to push PRCC ahead 69-58.
Cameron Smith extended PRCC's lead to 71-58. After beating the press, the former MHSAA State Champion fought through a crowd to put back his own miss.
The Bobcats broke PRCC's 6-0 run via a goaltending call to trail 71-60 with 1:43 remaining.
After Hardy hit two free throws with 70 seconds remaining, Cameron Smith appropriately helped punctuate PRCC's second straight Region XXIII Championship by serving an alley-oop pass up to Moore for the slam.
"The game of basketball is a game of runs, but we knew our assignments so I just felt like it was a matter of time until we pulled away," Smith said.
Brown led Pearl River at the break with 13 points and finished with a game-high 21 points.
"This is a dream come true," Brown said. "We knew we had to play hard. Jones has played hard every single time we've played them and it's a really good matchup every time we play them.
"We just took it play by play, took our time and got the shots we wanted."
Hardy finished with 15, while Moore scored 14 with a game-high 12 rebounds and three blocks.
After playing a reserve role a year ago in PRCC's run through the Region XXIII Tournament, Cameron Smith played every minute of Friday's victory. The sophomore finished with nine points and 10 rebounds.
The official bracket and seedings for the NJCAA Tournament will be revealed Monday at noon. The Selection Show will be livestreamed at NJCAATV.com, Twitter.com/NJCAA and Facebook.com/NJCAA. The tournament will be held March 16-21 in Hutchinson, Kansas.