Second-half Pearl River comeback eliminates Northwest Mississippi in state tournament semi-finals

            POPLARVILLE — Pearl River overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to eliminate Northwest Mississippi 65-62 and propel the Wildcats into the men’s title bout against Mississippi Delta in MACJC State Tournament action here Wednesday in Shivers Gymnasium.
            Trailing 41-24 at the half, tournament host and South Division No. 1 seed PRCC opened the second half with an amazing 22-4 scoring run to take its first lead of the night at 46-45 and never looked back.
            The Wildcats, ranked 20th in the latest NJCAA Division II men’s poll, improved to 21-4 with the victory; while Northwest, the North Division’s No. 2 seed, dropped to 17-7.
            North No. 4 Mississippi Delta eliminated South No. 4 Mississippi Gulf Coast 75-64 prior to the PRCC-NWCC battle to earn its berth in the championship.
            In the first half, things couldn’t have gone worse for the Wildcats.
            “Basically, we just weren’t following our game plan,” said Wildcat head coach Richard Mathis, who will be gunning for his sixth state title at The River. “We had one (game plan) going in and each player had his role, but we weren’t following it.”
            After Wildcat point guard DeAngelo Coleman hit the game’s opening basket, Kenyatta Jones answered with one of the Rangers’ seven three pointers in the first half and kick-started a 34-13 run that gave Northwest one of its two 19-point leads at 34-15 — its largest of the game — with 3:27 left before the break.
            Pearl River responded with five unanswered points before NWCC rebuilt its lead to 19 in the last minute. Xavian Rimmer hit a jumper at the buzzer to cut the Rangers lead to 41-24 at the intermission.
            Rimmer, an Alcorn State transfer who prepped at Piney Woods School near Jackson, opened the second half with back-to-back threes and DeMondre Harvey followed with a two to cut the lead to 41-32. Coleman pulled off back-to-back three-point plays at the 14:40 and 13:38 marks to give the Wildcats their first lead of the second half at 46-45.
            Dominique Harris immediately answered with a basket to regain the lead for Northwest, but Kaven Bernard’s two put The River back on top for good. Bernard’s basket kicked off a 10-3 scoring run that gave the Wildcats their largest lead of the game at 58-50 with 6:33 left.
            The Rangers managed to pull to within one at the 3:41 and 1:59 marks, but that was a close as they would get.
            “I’m really proud of our guys,” Mathis said. “We were basically dead in the water at the half, but I saw some fight in the Wildcats tonight.”
            Jones led Northwest with 13 points (two treys, two steals), while Demarcus McVay scored 12 (seven rebounds, three blocks), Charles Eaton 11 (four rebounds), Harris 10 (four rebounds, two treys, two steals), Tevin Moore (five rebounds) and Dajon Reno (two treys), seven each; and Tristan Moore two.
            Rimmer paced Pearl River with a game-high 17 points (four treys, four rebounds, four assists), while Bernard out of Assumption High in Napoleonville, La. (five rebounds), and Coleman out of South Pike High in Magnolia, 14 each; Daniel Grieves, a U.S. Air Force Academy transfer who prepped at St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis (four rebounds, six assists, two steals) and Frank Snow, a San Angelina CC (Tex.) transfer from Wellington, Fla. (six rebounds, two blocks, two steals), nine each; DeMondre Harvey of Minden (La.) High seven (eight rebounds), and Josh Carpenter of Oak Grove High and Jeremy Hollimon of Gulfport High (four assists), two each.
            Pearl River hit 41.7 percent (25 of 60) from the field — 32.3 percent in the first half, 51.7 percent in the second — to Northwest’s 41.5 percent (22 of 53) — 60 percent in the first half, 25 percent in the second. From three-point range, PRCC hit 23.5 percent (four of 17) to NWCC’s 38.1 percent (eight of 21), while the Wildcats were 11 of 16 (68.8 percent) at the foul line to the Rangers’ 10-of-14 (71.4 percent) effort.
            The River had the edge on the boards with 36 rebounds (14 offensive, 22 defensive) to Northwest’s 35 (11 offensive, 24 defensive), while PRCC committed 16 turnovers to NWCC’s 20.
            The MACJC championship games kick off at 5 p.m. with the women’s game pitting South No. 1 Copiah-Lincoln, 61-60 winners over North No. 2 Itawamba in the semi-finals, against North No. 3 Northeast Mississippi, 68-49 winners over South No. 4 Jones County. The Pearl River-Delta match up begins at 7 p.m.

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