POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The Pearl River women's basketball team turned to their most experienced players Monday inside Marvin R. White Coliseum with their backs against the wall. The same upperclassmen who led PRCC back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14 a year ago helped keep their postseason dreams alive by leading the Wildcats past Southwest 74-50 on Sophomore Night.
"What a basketball game tonight and what an environment. These sophomores started something. They won last year — the first time we had won on Sophomore Night, so we kept that going," Pearl River coach Scotty Fletcher said. "I thought we played as bad of a first half as we could have in basketball offensively, however we guarded really well. To give up only 22 points — and I have a lot of respect for Southwest and their staff. We were 0-for-7 from 3 in the first half and I told them we would not be 0-for in the second half. This is our goal, our gym and we're going to make shots because we do that every day.
"I thought we fed off the crowd and the energy."
Emphasizing the importance of the upperclassmen Monday, every PRCC sophomore scored in the lopsided win.
The two teams traded scores for much of the first quarter. Southwest (15-7 overall, 8-5 MACJC South) opened the scoring but a Meah Monroe (Reserve, La.; East St. John's) gave PRCC its first points of the evening. After an Alanna Smith (Picayune) layup tied the game 4-4, Southwest pulled ahead 8-6.
Olivia Mosley (Pearl) scored PRCC's final three points of the frame with a slashing bucket — and subsequent flex — and free throw, but PRCC trailed 8-7 at the first break.
Southwest jumped back ahead 17-13, but Pearl River scored 9 of the next 11 points to retake a 22-19 lead.
Linzy made 1 of 2 free throws with under a second remaining in the half and PRCC took a 23-22 lead into the break.
Fletcher later said he was just honest with his players during halftime. The pep talk worked.
"I told them we're fine," he said. "We played our worst half of basketball offensively and we're still up one. You're champions. Go out there and play championship basketball.
"We weren't going to hit the panic button. I told them we're built for this and will respond the right way."
The Wildcats came out of halftime with a purpose.
Linzy opened the scoring and while the Bears took a brief 27-25, Pearl River scored 14 of the next 16 to take a commanding 39-29 lead.
Smith scored on an assist from Otashae Burrage (Carthage; Leake County) to spark the run. Linzy hit two 3-pointers during the stretch and two more free throws. In addition to a Monroe putback, Turner grabbed a long rebound and out-ran the floor for a quick layup.
PRCC closed the frame out-scoring SMCC 12-8 to take a 51-39 lead into the fourth.
The Bears hung around early in the final frame, at one point scoring seven unanswered to pull within eight, 55-47, but the Wildcats allowed the visitors to only score three points in the final five minutes to put the game on ice.
"You have to kill a run with a run and that's what we did," Fletcher said.
The highlight of the run was a sequence involving Smith and Jakia Harper (Jackson; Provine). Leading 59-50, Smith sunk a 3-pointer with a nifty helper from Harper. The next SMCC possession, Smith grabbed a long rebound, raced down the left side of the court and delivered a cross-court pass on the money to Harper all alone in front of the home bench. Harper caught the pass and drained the shot in one smooth motion to extend PRCC's lead to 65-50.
"Jakia's 3 was a backbreaker," Fletcher said.
Linzy led the way Monday, tying a career-high with 24 points. The sophomore guard converted three 3-pointers, was 8 of 15 from the floor overall and also converted five free throws.
"The thing that stands out is Pooh Linzy with 24 points," Fletcher said. "That is absolutely incredible. That kid has been the hardest worker next to Rehema Franklin in this program in five years. She lives in the gym.
"The basketball gods paid her back tonight."
Smith added 13 points of her own and led PRCC with four assists. Turner finished with eight points and three assists.
Wright led the Wildcats with 10 rebounds. Miller finished with six.
In between games Pearl River honored its sophomores. The super class is comprised of Bullard, Mosley, Linzy, Harper, Smith, Wright and Monroe.
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.