Shortly after 11-seed Pearl River took the Hutchinson Sports Arena court Tuesday it looked like the program’s first trip to the NJCAA Tournament might be a short one. The 22-seed Williston State Tetons came out firing, but the Wildcats absorbed the early blows before coming to life mid-way through the first. Sparked by their bench, the Wildcats built a double-digit lead by the break and pulled away late to claim the 83-69 victory.
The Wildcats were set to play No. 6 seed Odessa (27-6 overall) at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The Wranglers earned a Round 1 bye.
“I thought the guys came out and played to represent the state. I really did,” Pearl River coach Chris Oney said. “We started out a little nervous because we were anxious to get out there. Once things settled in and we started playing the way we played to get here I thought the game started to go our way some.”
The Tetons (22-11) showed why they scored more than 90 points per game this season, mounting an early 20-7 lead in the first six minutes Tuesday.
Then the tide turned for The River.
“When Coach called timeout he said we just have to settle down and get a couple of stops and that’s what we did,” Cedric Brim Jr. said. “Then the offense started going.”
LaGarious White came off the bench and sent a jolt through the PRCC (26-3) lineup, quickly knocking down three 3-pointers — his third pulling the Wildcats within seven, 20-13.
“I think LaGarious White came in and gave us all confidence. When he came in and hit some shots I could see some of the other guys like C.J. (Brim) and Kirk (Parker) start nodding their heads, saying ‘OK, let’s go,’” Oney said. “Things started to look familiar to us; playing defense, making shots and getting out in transition. That’s when we took control of the game.”
Aided by some defensive stops and hustle plays on both ends of the court, the Wildcats made their run. Vicksburg native Kirk Parker (Vicksburg) scored a putback with 9:51 remaining to give Pearl River its first lead of the game at 21-20. The two teams traded shots but thanks in large part to 8 points from Parker, the Wildcats held a 43-34 advantage at the break.
“I think the team needed energy. We were a little slow on the start,” Parker said. “Somebody had to step up to keep us going so I thought I needed to make the energy plays, the hustle plays and get some big rebounds for the team.”