March 25, 2019 10:44:31 AM
By Ben Portnoy
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- As the Mississippi State men's basketball season struck midnight Friday against No. 12 seed Liberty, Bulldogs video coordinator Josh Pierre stopped in the handshake line.
There, he met his twin brother, Joe Pierre III -- the director of player development for the Flames.
The two locked in a long embrace. Never did they think it'd come to this.
"I had some tears," Joe Pierre III said Sunday. "I wanted to beat anybody but him."
As kids in Baton Rouge, the Pierre twins were constantly competing against one another. Whether it was playing one-on-one or seeing who could eat their food fastest, Joe and Josh relished the competition -- most of all on the court.
"We've always been best friends," Joe said. "Basketball really bonded us close together."
According to Joe, there was a roughly 1.14 percent chance MSU and Liberty would meet in the NCAA Tournament's opening round.
Coming off a 28-6 season and an Atlantic Sun Tournament championship, the Flames had positioned themselves as one of the stronger mid-major teams in the field.
Conversely, the Bulldogs had earned solid footing on Selection Sunday after a 23-10 record and 10-8 finish in regular season SEC play.
On Sunday, March 17 the bracket was revealed.
Soon after it was announced the Bulldogs and Flames would play in San Jose, Joe and Josh chatted on the phone.
"We had a long moment of silence," Joe said. "Then we didn't end up talking til later that night. We both needed to figure out how to help our teams win."
In their youth, the duo loved the 1997 movie "The Sixth Man." In the film, brothers Kenny and Antoine Tyler, fictional players at the University of Washington, adopted the motto "A and K all the way."
Taking a piece of the movie for their own, the Pierre's put a twist on the Tyler brothers' saying -- J and J all the way, NC-two-A.
"We adopted that motto as young kids and we always wanted to be there," Joe said. "So we got there and it was exciting."
As game time neared Friday, Joe felt an uneasiness creep in. He and his brother had always dreamt of being in the NCAA Tournament together, albeit on the same coaching bench.
For siblings that had thrived on competition, there was something rather disheartening about one or the other's season ending that night.
A few hours later, with the clock nearing zero, the reality set in.
Liberty had just earned its first NCAA Tournament win in four tries, while MSU had come up short in its first appearance in the Big Dance since 2009.
In the stands, Joe and Josh's parents, Butch -- a former MSU basketball player himself -- and Clemmie Pierre, along with sister, Langley McClay looked on.
"It was really, really special," Joe said. "One of the more special moments for our family ever."
Moments later, Joe was headed toward a date with No. 4 seed Virginia Tech on Sunday with a Sweet 16 appearance on the line.
In Josh's case, the staunch reality of a sooner-than-expected offseason in Starkville began.
"It didn't feel like a normal game," Joe said. "But it was exciting to be in the NCAA Tournament, for sure."
Sitting in the Flames' locker room following a 67-58 loss to the Hokies Sunday, Pierre was soft-spoken. Tears visibly filled his eyes. Perched on a fold-up chair, his blue suit jacket had been tossed aside.
The one-and-done nature of March Madness brings the agony of defeat swiftly. But for Pierre, he was glad to have shared the moment with his twin brother.
"We just hope that we can continue to grow," he said. "Maybe we'll meet again or be on the same team sometime."
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