No. 7 Pearl River's strong second half leads to victory over Meridian
Jaxon Dunaway - PRCC Intern
POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The No. 7 Pearl River Wildcats were victorious in a physical contest over Meridian Monday night. Despite a slow start, second-half adjustments contributed to PRCC handling the Eagles 80-45.
"I was happy for us to respond the way we did. We've been in this situation before," head coach Scotty Fletcher said of his team's second-half surge. "We were down a player tonight, but our girls stepped up. I'm really proud of our discipline and the way we responded in the second half."
The first half was tight between Pearl River (18-2 overall; 5-0 MACCC) and Meridian (7-11; 3-3). The Wildcats kept the advantage primarily because Marley Freeman (Brandon) diced the defenders with creative passing.
Alexis Arrington (Terry) began the scoring for Pearl River in nice fashion with a clean 3-pointer off an assist from Freeman. Freeman then produced a precise pass into the paint where Samya Brooks (Pontotoc) awaited. She banked the ball off the corner and into the basket. Freeman followed that up with yet another dime. This time, a one-handed bounce pass around a defender where Taylor Johnson-Matthews (Cleveland, Ohio; Charles F. Brush) was waiting. Matthews caught the ball and converted the layup. The Wildcats led early, 7-2.
The teams exchanged fouls before Tiir Nyok (High Point, N.C.; Southwest Guilford) bounced off defenders and into the paint, unleashing a one-handed, off-balance fade-away that banked off the backboard and in. Physicality inside the paint opened an opportunity for Fielder, who was alone outside the arc.
Under no pressure and off an assist from Arrington, Fielder sunk it in to extend the lead to 15-8. Leah Wilcher (Brookhaven) clocked four free throws as the period ended closer than expected, at 19-16.
Freeman continued her team-play as another assist found Fielder, who swished a 3-pointer off the right wing. Brooklyn Anderson (Greenville, Tenn.; North Greene) took an uncontested opportunity from the arc and drained it, pushing the score to 27-18 and hyping the crowd. Arrington earned the assist.
Two clean fakes from Nyok opened a pass to Anderson, who found Brooks wide-open inside for two. After creating a small amount of space at 31-23, PRCC called a timeout with five minutes remaining in the second period. An Eagle free throw broke a two-minute scoreless drought. The half ended 35-26.
Early foul trouble kept Johnson-Matthews out for most of the first half, but her impact was noticeable throughout the second half. Coming into the half with two points, Johnson-Matthews provided space for PRCC to run away with it.
First, Fielder (pictured) began the Wildcat scoring with an uncontested 3-pointer off the right wing. Johnson-Matthews followed that up with a jumper as she backed away from defenders and launched it over their heads. She then added another contested jumper to push PRCC's lead to 19, 48-29.
Brooks plucked a Meridian loose ball off the floor and met Fielder at the basket for a break-away layup, 52-31. Audria Houston (Oxford; Tupelo) took the ball coast-to-coast off a rebound, exhibiting her speed as she accelerated past every defender and notched two points for the Wildcats. Wilcher turned a foul into two more points for PRCC. Fielder capped off the third quarter with a deep 3-pointer from the right wing and off an assist by Freeman.
The final quarter opened as Johnson-Matthews curled a hook pass over defenders to Brooks for a layup. Johnson-Matthews broke inside and split the defenders on her way to the basket for a layup. She followed that up with a 3-pointer despite being knocked to the floor. Leading 69-42 and with five minutes remaining, the Wildcats called a timeout.
Nyok pivoted left, then right, spinning the defender around and shooting a jumper just outside the paint. An Arrington long-range jumper gave the Wildcats a 30-point advantage. Nyok continued showcasing her athleticism, driving left and baiting defenders before a neat pass to the right allowed Anderson to basket two points. The combination of Houston to Kamren Edwards (Jackson; Murrah) produced a 3-point dagger inside twenty seconds left. The game ended there at 80-45, as the Wildcats led by 35.
BY THE NUMBERS
Taylor Johnson-Matthews led the Wildcats with 17 points. Matthews shot 6-for-10, making one 3-pointer and going 4-for-4 on free throws.
"Taylor got into foul trouble and played three minutes in the first half," Fletcher said. "Against Coahoma, Taylor did not score in the first half; we were up at halftime, and she got all her points in the second half. Our team has been there."
Fielder was second with 16 points. She was 4-for-10 from the three-point range and 6-for-10 in total.
"She was big tonight and made four timely big ones," Fletcher said. "We call her big-shot Fielder."
Brooklyn Anderson tallied 14 points, going 6-for-8 total and 1-for-1 from deep.
"I am very proud of Brooklyn and the growth she has made from day one," Fletcher said. "We know she's got a soft touch; she's a great shooter."
Leah Wilcher was a perfect 6-for-6 on free throw attempts.
"Anytime you have a post player that can go perfect from the line and give you valuable minutes, it's exceptional," Fletcher said.
Marley Freeman picked up nine assists.
"Look at Marley's nine dimes," Fletcher said. "Give her back a nickel. She doesn't need change."
Pearl River will go on the road for a game Thursday against rival Gulf Coast. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. The game will be livestreamed at MGCCCBulldogs.com/Watch.