Wildcats come up short against East Mississippi in MACJC State Tournament

FULTON – Pearl River Community College had no answer in the second half against East Mississippi in the quarterfinals of the MACJC Men’s Basketball State Tournament.
As a result, the Wildcats’ stay in the tournament at the Davis Event Center on the Itawamba Community College campus was brief, as they were eliminated with an 80-73 loss to the Lions, ending PRCC’s two-year reign as state champions.
“We had guys who needed to make shots that didn’t make shots,” said PRCC head coach Chris Oney. “Those guys tried to make the plays that we needed to make, but they didn’t make them. Some nights it’s like that.”
The loss does not end Pearl River’s season, as the Wildcats (16-8) have already qualified for the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament next week at Clinton, by virtue of finishing the regular season as the top seed in the South Division.
East Mississippi (18-6) will continue in the state tournament, facing Southwest Mississippi in Wednesday’s semifinals.
“We need a little chance to recuperate, I would say, get back together,” said Wildcat forward Darrlyn Willis. “We’ve got some injuries and we didn’t have all of our guys with us tonight.”
Willis did his part to keep the Wildcats in the state tournament, scoring a game-high 29 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. The sophomore from Madison, Wis., was 13 of 13 from the foul line and also blocked three shots.
“I started getting a double team and triple team a lot more,” said Willis. “I started trying to pass it more, but my passes were getting intercepted.”
It was a seesaw battle through the first half and into the second half. PRCC led by five points midway through the first half, and the Lions also led by five late in the period. EMCC led at halftime 39-38.
The tight affair continued in the second half, as the two teams ultimately fought through 12 lead changes and 11 ties.
The Wildcats led 52-51 with 13:16 to play in the second half, when East Mississippi took command.
Daniel Simmons, the Lions’ leading scorer who was held scoreless in the first half, got a layup, drew a foul and hit the free throw for a three-point play that put East Mississippi ahead for good.
That started a 6-0 spurt that quickly mushroomed into a 21-7 run over a 6½-mintue stretch to put the Lions ahead 72-59 with 6:39 to play.
However, the Lions turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions, fueling an 11-2 spurt that putted the Wildcats to within four, 74-70, capped by a 3-pointer by Jeffrey Spence with 4:20 to play.
“I came out and played like my coach wanted me to,” said Spence, who got a rare start and responded with 14 points. “I was out there for defense, but it came together for me on offense a little bit.”
But that was it for PRCC. The Wildcats had five straight empty possessions over the next 2½ minutes, while still trailing by four, and did not score again until the less than five seconds were left on the clock.
“The good thing for us is we get another chance next Thursday,” said Oney. “We need to regroup and take advantage of it.”
Juan Davis Jr. led five East Mississippi players in double figures with 18 points.
MACJC State Tournament
Monday at Fulton
East Mississippi 80, Pearl River 73
EMCC             39-41 – 80
PRCC              38-35 – 73
EAST MISSISSIPPI (18-6): Jahyde Gardiner 13, Juan Davis Jr. 18, Nat Dixon 10, J’Vaughnte Harris 6, Daniel Simmons 14, Anterio McKines 5, Montrael Nabors 14. TOTALS: FG 28-62 (45.2%), 3FG 9-20 (45.0%), FT 15-20 (75.0%).
PEARL RIVER (16-8): Jeffrey Spence 14, Darrlyn Willis 29 (15 rebounds); Cortez Mitchell 7, Eli Arcement 3, William Brown 5, Tawarren Grant 6, Jamond Franklin 7, LaDarron Johnson 2. TOTALS: FG 24-54 (44.4%), 3FG 5-19 (26.3%), FT 20-24 (83.3%).