Stifling defensive performance sends Pearl River to ‘Elite 8’ of Region XXIII Tournament

Published 9:00 am Friday, April 2, 2021

POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The Pearl River women’s basketball team gave visiting Delgado all it could handle in their Region XXIII Tournament showdown  Wednesday night. Thanks to a stifling defensive effort late, the Wildcats sank the Dolphins 64-42.

As the 8-seed, the Wildcats advance to play at 1-seed Jones College on Monday at 6 p.m.

“I’m just so proud of our girls and what they did tonight. It’s such a great win for our kids. It’s a special team and special group,” Pearl River coach Scotty Fletcher said. “Our goal was to get to the Elite 8, that’s how we were approaching this. 

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“The ceiling is so high for this team.”

The game got off to a slow start as there was a bit of an acclimation period.

An 8-0 run thanks to a jumper from Keshunti Nichols (Pearl) and 3s from Brandy Scott (Hammond, La.) and Nichols gave the Wildcats an 8-3 advantage.

A fastbreak bucket from Nichols followed later by a 3-pointer from Otashae Burrage (Carthage; Leake County) gave the Wildcats (5-3 overall) a 13-8 lead after the first quarter.

Three-pointers dominated play in the second quarter as the two sides combined for five.

Leading 16-12, Burrage nailed a 3-pointer and soon after hit another to extend their lead to 22-12. Scott picked a Dolphins’ pocket and went coast-to-coast for a 24-12 lead, forcing the visitors to call a timeout.

DCC (9-6) regrouped to out-score PRCC 11-2 to get back into the game. Bryanna Taylor (Terry) scored in the post to help give the Wildcats a 28-24 halftime lead.

The third quarter played out similarly with neither team giving up much. A Burrage 3 out of the break followed up by a Scott layup pushed PRCC ahead 33-24.

By the end of the third PRCC had only extended its lead to 41-36 thanks to a late layup in traffic by Scott.

After wearing down the Dolphins for 30 minutes, the Wildcats pulled away in the fourth, outscoring the visitors 23-6. The lopsided finish was due in large part to PRCC holding DCC to 14.3 percent shooting from the floor.

“They played a hard-fought game,” Fletcher said. “The biggest stat is only giving up six in the fourth quarter. Our DNA and what we pride ourselves on is defense.”

The Wildcats teamed up for an impressive play to open the quarter. TyMesha Reed (Meridian) drove the lane and when two Dolphin crashed, she spun a pass behind one of the defenders to Nichols for an easy layup.

Three free throws from Nichols sandwiched around a Taylor baseline jumper, forcing DCC to call a timeout with PRCC ahead 48-38.

Although the Dolphins converted a free throw out of the break, PRCC reeled off 15 straight to leave little doubt the Wildcats were going to win their first playoff game under Fletcher’s guidance.

“We did a very good job late of limiting them late to one shot, grabbing the rebound and getting out and running with it,” Fletcher said of the run.

Aided by five 3-pointers, Burrage scored a game-high 19 points. The strong performance was one point off her career-high.

“I’m just so proud of her,” Fletcher said. 

Scott was second in the game with 18 points. Nichols added 12 points. She also had six rebounds and two blocks. 

“How about KeKe?” Fletcher said. “She’s just a do-it-all player. She’s so solid. Her intangibles are limitless.”

Marcavia Shavers and Taylor were huge in the post for PRCC. The two combined for 14 points and 19 rebounds.

“Marcavia and B-Taylor, I am so glad they have Pearl River on their chests and we get to coach them for two years,” Fletcher said. “They’re special young women.”

Jones College, the No. 1 ranked team in the country and the top-seed in the tournament, cruised past Mississippi Delta 86-55.

Due to a cancelled game this season, PRCC only faced the Bobcats once — in a narrow 65-57 game in Ellisville.

“We know who they are,” Fletcher said. “They’re four-straight region champs. We have a lot of respect for their coaches and players. They’re a talented team. They are Goliath and we are David. We understand that. 

“We’ll take the next few days to prepare.”