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Pearl River advances to Region 23 Quarterfinals with road victory

Dylan Dunaway - PRCC Sports Information Director


FULTON, Miss. — It was win or go home for the 10-seed Pearl River men's basketball team Saturday, and the Wildcats made sure they weren't going home, hitting the road and taking down 7-seed Itawamba, 74-64. PRCC has now advanced to the Region 23 Quarterfinal round for a seventh consecutive season.

"I thought they left it all on the court tonight. They played like it was a win or go-home situation," head coach Chris Oney said. "That's what you have to do this time of the year. We came into this struggling a bit, but seeing that has upset our guys. They know in their hearts that we're much better than a 10-seed. We made a mission to show that tonight."


Ta'Zir Smith (Woodbridge, Va.; Virginia Academy) had a big game for the Wildcats, finishing with 26 points.


"We figured out what they were doing to us early on offense. We made some slight adjustments to put the ball in Taz's hands," Oney said. "He made the right play just about every time. They decided to stay at home with some of our guys, which opened up the driving lanes for Taz. He took advantage of it."

 

HOW IT HAPPENED 

It looked as if Pearl River (21-9 overall) was in for a tough evening against Itawamba (22-8) in the early going as the Wildcats fell behind by nine points, 12-3. Thankfully, the 3-pointer started to fall. Sophomore forward Dyllion Redmond (Jackson; Callaway) was first, nailing a shot from the left wing. One possession later, Smith joined in on the fun to make it a 12-9 game. Trailing 15-11, PRCC got within one on another long ball. Ezereke Dawson Jr. (Plant City, Fla) drew all of the attention down low before finding Cedquavious Hunter (Como; North Panola) for a corner 3-pointer, 15-14.


Austin Green (Sicklerville, N.J.; Timber Creek Regional) finally got involved in the game soon after, scoring his first points to propel PRCC in front, 19-17. Smith's incredible first half helped the Wildcats build out a seven-point, 27-20 advantage. He had back-to-back perfect trips to the free-throw line and then turned defense into offense by stealing away a lazy ICC pass and throwing down a rim-rattling two-handed slam.


The Indians didn't back down, fighting to move back in front 32-28. Dawson Jr. squared the game up at 32 apiece by throwing down a slam. ICC briefly took the lead on a free throw, but Smith knocked down two clutch free throws with 5.8 seconds left to send PRCC into the break ahead 34-33.


Pearl River couldn't get anything to fall early in the second half, and Itawamba took advantage of it, pulling ahead 41-36. The ball began to find its way through the hoop once again for the Wildcats, who evened up the game at 44-44 when Smith drove inside for a layup — collecting his 20th point of the game with the score.


A technical foul issued on the Indians combined with two Green free throws pushed PRCC in front 47-44. The Wildcat advantage grew to 52-46 on two great efforts on offense. Pearl River fought for a few offensive rebounds before dishing out to Hunter in the left corner for a 3-pointer. The pick-and-roll worked to perfection on the follow-up. Dawson Jr. set the pick, caught a pass down low and then threw to Green, who cut in from the left side for a layup.


Hunter came up clutch down the stretch for the Wildcats, hitting two 3-pointers to set the score at 62-49. 


Pearl River took its largest lead of the game with just over six minutes left. Green caught a pass around the charity stripe, surveyed the court and popped a pull-up jumper, 66-52. 


Itawamba tried to fight back but was forced to foul as time continued to tick off the clock. Pearl River hit a few more free throws and walked out with a victory of 74-64.

 

BY THE NUMBERS

It was another big game for Smith, who finished with 26 points. Dawson Jr. was second on the team with 16 points.

"Ezzy was big tonight. I saw a different kind of fire in him. I think he's been disappointed with the way he's been playing. He wanted to make sure that if it was his last game as a Wildcat, he left it all out there."

Hunter did most of his damage in the second half, finishing with 15 points.

 

UP NEXT

The Wildcats head to Booneville on Monday for an MACCC Quarterfinal matchup against Northeast. The game will begin at 6 p.m. and will be livestreamed at NEMCCTV.com.

 

For the latest on Pearl River Community College athletics, follow us on X (@PRCCAthletics) and Facebook (PRCCAthletics).

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