ELLISVILLE, Miss. — No. 15 Pearl River came up about two minutes shy of earning a chance to collect the program's 17thMACJC Championship on Wednesday when the Wildcats fell in the state semifinals to East Mississippi 62-57.
Pearl River was looking to repeat as MACJC Champs for the first time since claiming the 2003 and '04 titles.
"I just thought they had better energy in better spots in the game and that propelled them over the top of us," Pearl River coach Chris Oney said. "Luckily for us we have a chance next week to redeem this game and maybe next week we come with a little more energy and have a better chance to win."
The schedule for the Region XXIII Tournament, which will be hosted by Mississippi College in Clinton, will be released later this week.
The Wildcats (22-3 overall) held a hard fought 35-28 advantage at halftime and built a nine-point lead midway through the second half before the Lions (18-7) mounted a comeback.
EMCC was in the zone for much of the contest, frustrating the Wildcats with their defense. On the other end, the Lions converted 52.6 percent of their shots in the second half to out-score PRCC 34-22 in the final 20 minutes.
"It's all about misses and makes and we obviously didn't make enough to win the game," Oney said. "We didn't make enough to get them out of the zone. We've seen that in the past. We can't make the timely shots to get those guys out of the zone and that's the way it's going to be."
Even with East Mississippi's late push, PRCC had a chance to reclaim the lead in the final minute. Following an EMCC turnover, Eric Thornton Jr. (Canton; Murrah) sprinted down the court and converted a layup to pull within one at 58-57. Pearl River pressed on the in-bounds pass and Jonas James III (Jackson; Murrah) picked off a lengthy pass at midcourt. PRCC's ensuing shot didn't fall and the Lions made four free throws in the final seconds to put the game on ice.
"That ain't us," Oney said of PRCC's 57 points. "We couldn't get out and run because we kept giving up layups at the rim. That's something we'll watch film on and get corrected so the next time we're in that situation we're better prepared."
LSU transfer Brandon Rachal (Natchitoches, La.; Natchitoches Central) led PRCC with 18 points. Thornton came off the bench to score 13 points in a team-high 35 minutes.
PRCC's big men, Chris Agbo (Jos, Nigeria) and Kirk Parker (Vicksburg) were in foul trouble for much of the game, essentially handcuffing Pearl River for long stretches.
"They did a good job of going right at as," Oney said.
Despite the difficulties, Parker still led the Wildcats with nine rebounds. Rachal, James and Thornton each dished out three assists.