POPLARVILLE, Miss. — It wouldn't be a "Cat Fight" if it didn't go down to the wire.
No. 4 Pearl River used late-game heroics from two of its most seasoned Wildcats Thursday night to knock off Jones College 64-61 at Marvin R. White Coliseum.
With mere seconds remaining in the rivalry contest, Earl Smith (Jackson; Lanier) drove down the left side of the lane and zipped a pass around a crashing Bobcat defense to teammate Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) standing all alone in the corner in front of PRCC's bench. Wilkens seamlessly caught the pass and fired a 3, rippling the net as the buzzer sounded.
"Earl looked at me and told me 'game,'" Jariyon Wilkens said. "He told me he was coming to me. I missed the free throw (30 seconds earlier) and I told my brother I was going to make up for it because I missed the free throw and I came through."
Added Smith: "I saw Jaryion open in that corner and I knew he'd knock it down. I had faith in him. All we gotta do is be patient."
The thrilling victory extended Pearl River's active winning streak to a stunning 30. It also marked PRCC's sixth straight victory over the other 'Cats.
"We always talk about never panicking no matter what happens; play hard for 40 minutes; don't get out of character," Pearl River coach Chris Oney said. "Even when we were down the one thing I enjoyed watching was that we didn't panic and we didn't get in a hurry. We took our time, we got to our spots and we got set up. We haven't played many games. I'm glad we pulled it out because we didn't have those eight or nine games we played before hand. I'm still learning how to sub these guys.
"I'm happy we won the game now it's time to move on."
The Wildcats (2-0; 2-0) and Bobcats (0-2; 0-2) played a back-and-forth first half in Thursday's "Cat Fight."
JC took an early 5-2 advantage but Jariyon Wilkens (Biloxi) stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a dunk and then Cameron Brown (Hattiesburg) sunk a floater to give PRCC its first advantage at 15:09.
After a Bobcat bucket Pearl River scored eight of the next 10 points to pull ahead 14-9 and force a JC timeout at 10:27.
The Bobcats made a mini-run to tie the game 17-17, but PRCC responded thanks to an Earl Smith jumper, Ankerion Gross (Sardis; North Panola) 3 and a putback by the North Mississippi native for a 24-21 lead.
Jariyon Wilkens sank two free throws to extend PRCC's lead to 26-21. A jumper from JaQuan Ewing (Clarksville; Kenwood) and a 3 from Gross pushed PRCC to a 31-23 lead. Jones rallied late in the half but PRCC took a 33-30 advantage into the break.
The Cats traded baskets early in the second frame, extending their lead to 45-37 on a 6-0 run courtesy of a Smith jumper, Jaronn Wilkens (Biloxi) basket and two Brown free throws.
A 3 from Brown soon after gave PRCC their largest lead of the contest at 48-39.
After a short run from JC, PRCC extended its lead to 53-47 courtesy of a layup from Jaronn Wilkens followed by a 3 from Smith.
The Bobcats took their first lead since early in the game with 3:56 remaining at 57-55, but the Wildcats quickly tied it back up on a pair of Jaronn Wilkens free throws.
Following a Bobcats basket, Pearl River retook the lead 61-59 on a bucket in the paint by Jaronn Wilkens and a drive by Smith.
A Bobcat bucket with just under a minute remaining — followed by two missed PRCC free throws — setup the dramatic finish.
LEADING THE WAY
Four Wildcats scored in double figures Thursday. Smith led the way with 13 points Brown scored 12, while Jariyon Wilkens and Gross scored 11 and 10 respectively. Jariyon Wilkens also led PRCC with eight rebounds and four steals.
PRCC's rotating schedule continues next week, with the Wildcats visiting Meridian on Monday before hosting Copiah-Lincoln on Thursday, Feb. 4. Both games are 6 p.m. starts.
Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there will not be general admission at home basketball games. Following guidelines set by the state of Mississippi, PRCC is limiting attendance to only players, coaches, spirit squads, the PRCC pep band, gameday personnel and family members. No Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference or Mississippi High School Activities Association passes will be accepted.
HOW TO TUNE IN
Most games will be broadcast at PRCCMedia.com/Gold but in some instances where multiple teams are at home, PRCC will also have a feed on its auxiliary channel at PRCCMedia.com/Maroon. Fans who have Roku or Amazon Fire devices can also watch the Wildcats on their televisions by downloading the "Pearl River CC" channel from their app store.
Home games will also be broadcast on WRJWRadio.com.