• 63°

No. 11 Pearl River drops heartbreaker to Holmes in Region XXIII tournament semifinals

CLINTON, Miss. — The No. 11 Pearl River men’s basketball team dropped a nail biter in the Region XXIII semifinals Thursday night when it fell to Holmes 61-58 at A.E Wood Coliseum.

The contest was a back and forth affair with Holmes taking the lead with under a minute left in the game.

“I think both teams played well,” head coach Chris Oney said. “They just made some plays down the stretch that we didn’t. A little March Madness in April. To win these kind of games, you’ve got to make free throws. You have to make them when they count the most. That changes the way that we play defense when we are up two from making them instead of missing them both and it being a tied game and you have to do something different. It also takes the pressure off of them. We didn’t make the free throws. That’s just part of it.”

Holmes tied up the game 58 apiece with 2:18 left where the contest was deadlocked before the Bulldogs hit a dagger three with 40 seconds left.

After purposefully fouling with 13 seconds left the Wildcats were able to have one last shot attempt.

Cameron Brown (Hattiesburg) nailed a three ball from the corner but the ball did not leave his hands before time had expired securing the win for Holmes.

DOWN TO THE WIRE 

Holmes (14-3) got off to a good start against the Wildcats (12-2) hitting a 3-pointer to score the first points of the game.

J’Quan Ewing (Clarksville, Tenn.; Kenwood) gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game sinking two free throws with 17:34 left in the first half to give them their first lead, 6-5.

Holmes quickly answered and retook the lead with back to back layups and a 3-pointer.

The Bulldogs held the lead for the next 8 minutes before PRCC regained it with a blocked shot by Ewing and three ball from Ankerion Gross (Sardis; North Panola) making it 15-14 with 9:45 left in the first half.

Holmes briefly answered with free throws before the Wildcats went on a six point run.

Earl Smith (Jackson; Lanier) drew a foul and sank both free throws before Brown sunk a 3-pointer and a Jaronn Wilkens layup bolted the Wildcats to a 22-16 lead with over 6 minutes left in the half.

The Bulldogs immediately responded with back to back 3-pointers to tie it up at 22.

Jaryion Wilkins (Biloxi) retaliated with a huge four-point play to put PRCC up 26-22.

Both teams exchanged baskets over the next a few minutes before Ewing tipped in a bucket and Brown hit another three ball with 10 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 34-29 lead heading into halftime.

The Bulldogs and Wildcats exchanged buckets to start the second half before Holmes went on a 7-2 run to tie it up at 38.

Both teams matched each other basket for basket the next seven minutes before Holmes took a six point lead after huge back to back 3-pointers to give the Bulldogs the 54-48 lead with 7:43 left.

Gross put the Wildcats back within three with a 3-pointer with 4:32 left.

Brown gave PRCC its last lead of the night when he hit a four-point play to make it 57-56 Wildcats.

Holmes tied up the game 58 apiece with 2:18 left where the contest was deadlocked before the Bulldogs hit a dagger three with 40 seconds left.

With 13 seconds left, the Wildcats forced a turnover in front of the Holmes bench and dashed to the other side of the court for one last opportunity to keep their season alive.

After one 3-point attempt the ball found its way to Brown on the far side of the court.

The freshmen launched a ball up and through the twine at the buzzer but the referees determined his shot did not beat the clock.

LEADING THE WAY 

Jaronn Wilkens led the Wildcats in scoring with 19 points followed by Ewing and Brown with 13 and 10 respectively.

Ewing recorded his second double-double of the season hauling in 10 boards as well.

A GREAT YEAR

The Wildcats season could still continue if they are selected as an at-large bid for the NJCAA Tournament. The NJCAA’s Selection Show will air at 6 p.m. Sunday on NJCAA.org.

“I don’t know how those things are,” Oney said. “They’ll do whatever they need to do. We’ve done all that we can do. We lost one regular season game in two years and we lost in the semifinals today. If that’s not good enough then it’s not good enough. There was one sure way to make it and that was winning two more games. We just didn’t do it so now our faith is in the hands of other people who don’t know our character or creed or who we are as a basketball team. Either way, we are fine. I am excited about what this team has accomplished if we don’t get an at-large and if we do get one I’m excited to coach them again to try and win some more games.”

The 2020-21 season saw the Wildcats once again dominate the MACCC. PRCC started the season 5-0, extending their winning streak from the previous year to an astounding 33 games. The Wildcats proceeded to claim the South Division Title and earn the Co-MACCC Championship. For their efforts, the Wildcats earned the No. 1 seed in the Region XXIII Tournament.

Two highlights for PRCC came when it defeated arch rival Jones on a buzzer-beater from Jariyon Wilkens at Marvin R. White Coliseum and a thrashing of Hinds, who started the season 7-0 before falling to the Wildcats in Poplarville.

On top of that, the Wildcats also had three ALL-MACCC selections in the Wilkens brothers and Earl Smith.

“I told the guys that I have enjoyed coaching them,” Oney said. “You don’t always get the fairytale ending every year. Every year is different. That is why it’s special when you get a chance to win this thing two times in a row.”

THE NEXT CHAPTER 

The Wildcats will look to what should be a bright future with a roster that should have a plethora of returning talent. Out of the 10-man roster PRCC had five freshmen, including many who saw significant playing time throughout the season.

With the COVID-19 eligibility rules the Wildcats could also see some sophomores return.

“Our expectations every year are a lot different from other teams,” Oney said. “We expect to win the region championship every year, so when it doesn’t happen It’s a downer. At the end of the day, I’m excited and happy with them because we gave ourselves a chance to do what we set out to do.”