POPLARVILLE – Many times when a team wins a conference championship, it’s hard to for that team to get back up for the next round of postseason play.
But Pearl River Community College men’s basketball coach Chris Oney likes what he’s seen from his Wildcats after they captured the MACJC State Tournament championship last week at Senatobia.
The Wildcats open play Tuesday against Mississippi Gulf Coast in the opening round of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament at Clinton. Tipoff at Wood Coliseum on the Mississippi College campus is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“No, it really wasn’t hard for the kids to put last week behind them,” said Oney, the third-year coach of the Wildcats.
“I saw it in the locker room after the championship game. I didn’t see a bunch of kids jumping around. They were sitting down and already getting ready for this week. We talk a lot about ignoring results, putting the past behind us and worrying about what’s next.”
Pearl River (21-4) is the second seed in the tournament, the winner of which will move on to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
The fact that it’s archrival Gulf Coast standing in the Wildcats’ way adds some spice to the matchup, but Oney downplayed that aspect of the game.
“It really doesn’t make any difference,” said Oney. “Like we said last week; everybody in this field is good, so it’s not a big deal. We’re just happy we’re part of it, and we’re ready to compete.”
The Wildcats and the Bulldogs split the two regular-season meetings, each winning on the other team’s home floor. MGCCC (18-6) won at Poplarville 7-66 on Jan. 25, but PRCC dominated the game at Perkinston, winning 90-73 on Feb. 19.
“We just flushed last week and everything before,” said freshman guard Eric Thornton Jr. (Jackson)
“We’re just trying to make history and get to Kansas. We don’t expect anything different (from Gulf Coast). They’ve got a good big man, but we feel like if we can outwork them, we should win.”
Thornton is the state’s leading scorer at 19.7 points per game, and he also leads the Wildcats in rebounding, with 6.5 per game. Freshman Dedoch Chan, a 6-foot-8 forward, leads Gulf Coast with 17.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
The winner advances to the regional semifinals at 3 p.m. Thursday against the winner of the earlier quarterfinal clash between Baton Rouge (La.) and Northeast Mississippi.
NJCAA Region 23 Tournament
At Wood Coliseum, Clinton
1 p.m. – 1. Northwest Mississippi (22-3) vs. 8. Southwest Mississippi (16-8); 3 p.m. – 4. Holmes (21-4) vs. 5. Copiah-Lincoln (19-5); 5:30 p.m. – 3. Baton Rouge (12-11) vs. Northeast Mississippi (18-7); 7:30 p.m. – 2. Pearl River (21-4) vs. 7. Mississippi Gulf Coast (18-6).
1 p.m. – Northwest/Southwest winner vs. Holmes/Co-Lin winner; 3 p.m. – Baton Rouge/Northeast winner vs. Pearl River/Gulf Coast winner.
7:30 p.m. – Semifinal winners.