Pearl River's special year comes to end in NJCAA Tournament
Dylan Dunaway - PRCC Sports Information Director
HUTCHINSON, Kan. — 17-seed Pearl River fought to the very end against 16-seed Moberly Area but came up just short in the opening round of the NJCAA Tournament, falling 95-89 in overtime.
"It was a special year. We were able to accomplish winning the region and the state," head coach Chris Oney said. "It's been great to be able to come out here and experience this. It's something that I don't think they'll ever forget and it's something that I will always appreciate."
A YEAR TO REMEMBER The 2021-22 season was one that Pearl River will always remember. The Wildcats finished the year with a 24-4 record, including a perfect 14-0 mark in conference play. PRCC claimed the 2021-22 MACCC regular-season championship before cruising through Region 23 play to earn a bid into the NJCAA tournament.
The Region 23 title was the third for the Wildcats in the last four seasons.
BACK-AND-FORTH The entirety of the game was a back-and-forth affair as each basket was matched by the other team.
Moberly Area (27-7 overall) opened the scoring, but Pearl River (24-4) was the first to get the crowd on its feet. After a MACC 3-pointer, Dylan Brumfield (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) threw down an alley-oop slam on the other end of the court to make it 3-2. Jaronn Wilkens (Biloxi) was the next Wildcat to get in the scorebook, getting a contact layup to give the Wildcats a 4-3 advantage.
The Greyhounds stormed back to take an 11-4 lead, but a well-timed timeout in addition to stellar play from Ankerion Gross (Sardis; North Panola) pulled the Wildcats back in front. Right out of the timeout, Gross was fed a great pass down low and put it up for a layup. On the very next possession, Gross caught a pass in the corner and knocked down a 3-pointer. A few plays later, Gross struck once again with another corner 3-pointer, making the score 17-13 Pearl River.
The Greyhounds battled back to take the lead shortly after and continued to hold onto the lead as they entered the midway point ahead 36-31.
Gross continued his 3-point barrage in the second half, opening the scoring with a 3-pointer from the wing to make the score 36-34.
Moberly Area eventually stretched its lead out to nine points at 50-41, but then the Wildcats really settled in. Brumfield started things off by tipping a ball that bounced off the rim back in. MACC made a free throw, but then Earl Smith, Jr (Jackson; Lanier) scooped up an offensive rebound and put it back up and in. Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) battled through some contact and got a floater to fall and his brother Jaronn Wilkens followed him up by scoring on a layup off the inbound pass. Carlous Williams (Hattiesburg; Harrison Central) was able to get one free throw to fall before tipping a ball in to give the Wildcats their first lead of the half, 52-51.
A few minutes later, PRCC took its largest lead of the game at 67-61 after Smith nailed a 3-pointer from the corner.
The teams found themselves tied 74-74 late in the final half of the day, with Pearl River holding possession. The Wildcats were looking to take the final shot and Williams sent the Wildcat bench into hysterics by knocking down a 3-pointer with just 1.8 seconds left on the clock.
On the inbound pass, the Moberly Area guard took two dribbles before unleashing a half-court prayer shot that banked off the backboard and into the net to send the game to overtime in a 77-77 tie.
The shot fueled the Greyhounds as they carried the momentum through the overtime period to win 95-89.
STATISTICALLY SPEAKING Gross had an incredible day when it mattered most for the Wildcats, scoring a career-high 23 points on 8-for-9 shooting. Williams was second on the team in scoring with 18 huge points.
"It was awesome. Especially with Carlous being a freshman," Oney said. "It was the same deal. They did a good job with Jaronn, so Noodle (Ankerion Gross) and Carlous stepped up. That's how it's been all year. We've had different guys step up at the right time."
Jariyon Wilkens and Jaronn Wilkens rounded out those in double-digits with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Cameron Brown (Hattiesburg) was first on the team in rebounding, bringing in eight. Williams was second with six.
Smith finished with seven assists and Jariyon Wilkens had five.