Just eight games in to the season two things have become apparent for the Southwest Mississippi Community College’s men’s basketball team: They work hard to overcome adversity and they like winning close games.
The Bears checked both boxes Saturday. Playing without leading scorer Michael Barber, SMCC got a game-winning shot from Tada Stricklen at the buzzer to defeat the No. 2 Pearl River Wildcats 70-69 at home. The victory snapped the Wildcats’ 33-game win streak.
“My coach drew up a great play and there was a nice pass, Javius (Moore) set a nice screen and I just got the open look,” said Stricklen.
Both teams started out trading scores with fast-paced play. Strong play early on from Nate Hudson and Malik Lamin, proved beneficial for the Bears (6-2, 5-2) as the duo helped fill the gap left open by Barber’s absence.
While Hudson and Lamin went to work on the inside, Moore — a former McComb Tiger — provided a large portion of the scoring from the outside, nailing three 3-pointers, all of which came in the first 10 minutes of play.
Moore was also perfect from the free throw line, going 4-for-4.
Just past the halfway point of the first half, a Hudson basket gave the Bears an eight-point advantage over the Wildcats (5-1, 5-1).
At the 5:50 mark with SMCC ahead 24-17, Wilkins converted a 3-point play for the Wildcats, cutting the lead down to four. But Follie Bogan answered on the other end with a basket, putting the Bears back up by six.
For the remainder of the half, the Wildcats slowly cut down the Bears’ lead before jumping on top, taking a 31-30 lead at the half. It was the first lead for PRCC since jumping ahead 2-0 early in the game.
With PRCC up 39-34, Xyshan Jenkins got his second short-range shot in the paint, pulling SMCC back within striking distance.
About five minutes in the half, freshman Mazae Blake began to show his aggressiveness, cutting towards the hoop and drawing fouls before converting free throws. Soon after that, Stricklen followed suit with a short-range shot along the baseline before nailing a 3-pointer the following possession, giving SMCC a 45-43 lead at the 13:00 mark.
With just 1:09 to go, Stricklen missed two free throws after being fouled but Moore came up big for his team getting the put-back, giving SMCC 66-65 lead.
Down the stretch the Wildcats’ Joe Cooper hit both of his free throw attempts, giving the visitors a 69-67 lead with just 3.7 seconds to go. From there, the Bears moved the inbounds pass quickly up the floor, taking advantage of a screen from Moore before Stricklen hit the game-winner.
Moore led the Bears with 15 points, while Hudson posted 12, Stricklen tallied 11 and Blake 10. Jarron Wilkens led the Wildcats with a game-high 21 points and Jariyon Wilkens had 20.
SMCC head coach Bryan Bender praised his team’s fight in the victory.
“Our team never gave up from start to finish,” he said. “Pearl River is a phenomenal program and they’ve done really well riding a 33-game win streak. I don’t think that our program has ever beaten a Top-5 team, let alone a No. 2 in the country. Our guys were able to stick together through it all.”