Second half surge sends No. 16 Pearl River to Region XXIII title game
Dylan Dunaway - PRCC Sports Information Director
CLINTON, Miss. — Nothing goes together like the No. 16 Pearl River men's basketball team and the Region XXIII finals. An impressive second half performance by the Wildcats led them to a 53-42 victory over LSU Eunice Friday inside A.E. Wood Coliseum at Mississippi College, sending them to a fourth Region XXIII title game in the last five seasons.
The win sends them to a title clash with Meridian Saturday at 6 p.m. The Eagles advanced to the final after eliminating Northeast with a 64-58 win.
"I thought we were making it too hard in the first half. I counted like six layups that we missed, and we didn't get back on defense a couple of times because we were going for steals," head coach Chris Oney said. "I told them that we're the number one seed. We didn't have to play erratic or play like we have to trick them to win the game. All we had to do was be us.
"For us to win a game like this — you've seen us play a lot better than we did tonight. We just gutted it out. The toughness and hard work will prevail. We held a very good offensive team to 42 points and that says a lot about our guys."
FIRST HALF It was LSU Eunice (19-7 overall) who controlled the opening tip, but it was Pearl River (23-3) who controlled the beginning of the game.
The Wildcats got things started with an impressive 12-2 run. Jaronn Wilkens (Biloxi) opened the scoring by euro-stepping through the lane and getting a layup to fall. Ankerion Gross (Sardis; North Panola) then caught a pass from Cameron Brown (Hattiesburg) at the top of the key and busted a 3-point shot. After the Bengals got a basket back, Gross struck again, knocking down a shot from the exact same spot as before. A perfect trip to the free-throw line and a layup from Jaronn Wilkens capped off the run.
With 7:45 left in the half, LSU Eunice battled back into the game, cutting the deficit to 18-14.
Dylan Brumfield (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) helped the Wildcats build out a 25-18 lead late in the half. He first went 2-for-2 from the free-throw line and followed that up by slashing inside from the right wing and getting a layup to fall. He was fouled on the shot and his free throw attempt counted due to a goaltending call.
LSUE was able to battle back into the game, sending it to the second half in a 25-25 tie.
SECOND HALF Brumfield opened the second half of play by putting Pearl River right back on top. He fought hard to grab an offensive rebound before putting the ball back up and in.
Soon after, LSUE grabbed its only lead of the night, going ahead 29-28 after knocking down a jumper.
A big basket from Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) followed the jumper, giving the Wildcats the lead for good. The guard cut inside before letting go of a floater that hit nothing but net on the way down.
Carlous Williams (Hattiesburg; Harrison Central) came up big for the Wildcats in the last portion of the game, helping Pearl River ice the game. The freshman forward slashed home a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Wildcats a 33-29. After a few more Pearl River baskets, Williams struck once again, draining a corner 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a 10-point 42-32 lead.
Carlous Williams (Hattiesburg; Harrison Central) scans the court in No. 16 Pearl River's 53-42 victory over LSU Eunice Friday night. The freshman finished the night with a game-high 13 points while hauling in three rebounds. (Richard Gleber/PRCC Athletics)
The Bengals cut their deficit to four points at 44-40 with 5:16 left in the game, but Williams floated a shot home from just in front of the free-throw line to push the lead out to 46-40.
After a few big defensive stands from the Wildcats coupled with a few baskets, Williams capped off the big victory with a huge two-handed slam, giving PRCC a 52-42 win.
BY THE NUMBERS Williams led the way for the Wildcats offensively, finishing with a game-high 13 points. He also hauled in three rebounds.
"Carlous was spectacular today," Oney said. "We really needed that and it came at the right time."
Jaronn Wilkens ended the night with a double-double, scoring 12 points and bringing in 11 boards.
Earl Smith, Jr (Jackson; Lanier) tallied five assists on the night.
WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP In addition to the men's championship game, the Pearl River women's basketball team will take on rival Jones College in the Region XXIII final at 4 p.m. Saturday.
TUNE IN All Pearl River basketball games are livestreamed for free at PRCCMedia.com/gold. Fans who have Roku, Amazon Fire or Apple TV devices can also watch the Wildcat broadcasts by downloading the "Pearl River CC" channel from their app stores.
Games can also be heard on WRJW 1320-AM, 106.9 FM and WRJWRadio.com.