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No. 11 Pearl River grinds out playoff win

POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Coach Chris Oney is starting to sound like a broken record, but he’s more than OK with it. All that matters to the reigning NJCAA Coach of the Year is that his No. 11 Wildcats are moving on.

Top-seeded Pearl River had to dig deep once again Thursday but Oney’s crew gutted through some tired legs in order top Coahoma 58-46 in their opening game of the Region XXIII Tournament.

The Wildcats (11-1 overall) advance to host 9-seed Northwest at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Rangers topped Jones College 72-20 in Ellisville to remain alive in the postseason.

“This is probably the fifth time I’ve said this, but this is the most proud I’ve been of any team I have ever coached. This was pretty good,” Oney said. “They’re warriors. We talked at halftime and I could see they were tired. I told them when you’re old, sitting around in the living room around Christmas time and talking about your legacy, you’re going to talk about things you did that were extraordinary.

“I told them that this was going to be one of those things; showing up to beat a team that’s hot and talented despite not practicing for two weeks.” 

GAMEPLAN
With the exception of three brief moments, Pearl River led for the entire game.

“My gameplan going in was to jump on them early and get a little lead so I could play zone and rest them a little bit,” Oney said. “I knew it would have been tough if we let them get the lead and then had to fight back so I wanted to get it while we were fresh. It worked out for us.”

It would have been easy for a tired Wildcats team to get sloppy on defense and make careless fouls. But PRCC remained disciplined, collecting only eight fouls as a unit. That restraint paid off at the free throw line; while PRCC was 21-for-29 from the line, CCC (3-12) was a mere 2-for-4.

“That’s something we talk about, being disciplined, staying down and remaining in position so you don’t get into foul trouble,” Oney said. “That’s why we won the game.”

GETTING STARTED
Kedarius Stampley (Fayette; Natchez) opened the game with a 3-pointer.

Trailing 6-4, Jaronn Wilkens (Biloxi) hit two of PRCC’s 11 first-half free throws and then Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) got on the score sheet. The latter Wilkens brother drove toward the basket, slammed on the breaks to send his defender flying by and then calmly nailed a midrange jumper to give PRCC an 8-6 advantage.

Following a CCC bucket, Stampley got on the scoresheet again with perhaps the highlight of the night. The freshman guard drove down the lane and spun off a defender’s back for an uncontested layup and a 10-8 lead.

PRCC later trailed 18-16 but went on a 7-0 run thanks to a Jariyon Wilkens 3, a J’quan Ewing (Clarksville; Kentwood) putback in traffic and two free throws from Cameron Brown (Hattiesburg).

After another CCC basket, Stampley converted a layup and Brown hit a 3-pointer followed by two more free throws for a 30-20 lead.

CCC scored five of the final seven points of the half but PRCC still held a 32-25 lead.

The final 20 were just as close as the first, with both teams trading baskets. Brown opened the half with a 3-pointer after Earl Smith (Jackson; Lanier) grabbed a long rebound and zipped a pass to the former Hattiesburg Tiger. Holding a 41-35 lead near the midway point, Jariyon Wilkens hit a three and added a free throw. After his brother scored in the paint, Jariyon Wilkens added another free throw for a 48-37 advantage.

CCC played more man defense down the stretch but the Wildcats withstood the final push from the visitors to clinch a spot among Region XXIII’s final eight teams.

LEADING THE WAY
Brown and Jariyon Wilkens tied for the team lead in points with 12. Stampley had a career-high 11 points. Ewing had nine rebounds and Jaronn Wilkens finished with eight. Brown tallied four assists. 

FAMILIAR FACES
During the second half of Thursday’s matchup, Pearl River recognized two former stars who were back in town for the big game. Sitting courtside were NJCAA All-American and Southern Miss guard Tae Hardy alongside two-time Region XXIII champion Cameron Brown. Brown was an integral part of the Wildcats’ last two Hutchinson-bound teams while Hardy transferred from East Carolina and made an immediate impact at PRCC as one of the top guards in the nation.