Wildcats upset Northwest to capture state championshipBy STAN CALDWELL,
SENATOBIA – Pearl River Community College let nothing stand in its way Thursday night, not a nationally-ranked team nor its vocal fans.
The Wildcats built a big first-half lead, and held off No. 12 Northwest Mississippi down the stretch with clutch foul shots to prevail 83-77 in the men’s championship game of the MACJC State Tournament at Howard Coliseum on the NWMCC campus.
The victory gave PRCC (21-4) its 16th state title, and the school’s sixth in the past 15 seasons. Northwest dropped to 22-3.
The Wildcats will carry a six-game winning streak and a full head of steam into next week’s NJCAA Region 23 Tournament at Clinton. Second-seeded Pearl River will open the regional at 7 p.m. Tuesday against Mississippi Gulf Coast.
”We executed the game plan for about 30 minutes of the game,” said PRCC coach Chris Oney. “There was about a 10-minute stretch where we got out of it, but credit to (Northwest). They made some adjustments that got us off-balance some.”
PRCC took the lead for good, 9-8, with 14:27 to play in the first half when freshman Cedric Brim Jr. (Tupelo) converted a three-point play. The Wildcats led 13-12 before hitting the gas in a big way.
“Coach Oney always preaches all the time about always going hard every time you go on the court,” said Brim, who finished with 14 points. “It doesn’t matter where, or rankings, or anything. Just go hard.”
Pearl River scored 14 unanswered points in a 22-2 run that gave the Wildcats a nearly-insurmountable 35-14 lead with 6:52 to play in the first half. PRCC led 46-29 at halftime.
“We were making shots, and sticking to our game plan,” said Oney. “I’m kind of afraid to say what we did, because we might have to play them again next week. But our freshmen just stepped up and made plays all night.”
Offensively, the Wildcats went right at the Rangers’ best player, freshman guard Tremont Robinson, who picked up two quick fouls and only played six minutes in the first half.
Robinson also battled foul trouble in the second half, and played most of the second 20 minutes with four fouls.
But he was a difference maker for Northwest, keying a Ranger rally midway through the second half that cut a 13-point lead down to just three, 60-57, with 7:50 to play.
Three sophomores stepped up at that critical juncture for Pearl River. Cameron Douglas (Columbus) hit a high floater to make it 62-57, then Rodney Mallett (Lexington) got a steal and fed Jartavius Dobbs (Aberdeen) for a dunk to put the Wildcats ahead 64-57.
The Rangers cut the lead to four on two more occasions, but the Wildcats were 12 of 12 from the foul line in the final 1:27 to seal the win.
“Coach Oney just told me to be a leader out there,” said freshman point guard Jonas James III (Jackson), who led the Wildcats with 20 points. “Every day at practice, he wants me to shoot 100 free throws before I can leave.”
Freshman Eric Thornton Jr. (Jackson) added 15 points, Mallett finished with 6 assists, and Douglas and freshman Kirk Parker each had 8 rebounds.
Both teams knew there would be more basketball after this week’s tournament. However, that will not be the case next week. The Wildcats will have to put this triumph behind them and get ready for an equally tough road at the regional.
“This is sweet, because I never won a championship before,” said Brim. “We’ll take a couple of days to enjoy this, then come back to practiceSunday and get ready for the regional.”