By MIKE MONTFORT
Free throws by Troy Jones and Shannon Lilly inside the final :08.2 Saturday helped Navarro to secure a 56-52 Region XIV men’s basketball victory over the 13th ranked Kilgore Rangers.
Jones, who finished with 10 points, six rebounds, 3 steals and a locked shot, ignited a Bulldog rally of 13 unanswered points to start the second half and also made certain of a positive outcome.
Coach Michael Landers’ Bulldogs (19-9/12-5) won their fifth game in their last six outings and climbed within two games of the East Zone leadership with two games to play….and, of course, there is the underlying factor of seeding for the upcoming Region XIV Tournament at UT-Tyler to consider.
With games remaining Wednesday at Tyler and Saturday against Trinity Valley at the SEC, Navarro currently holds the sixth-best record in the air-tight race.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs not only avenged a 65-54 loss at Kilgore, but remained unbeaten on their homecourt in conference play (8-0) and improved to 11-1 on the season. The win was Navarro’s second over an NJCAA-ranked team since February 5.
Jones, the Alexandria, La., sophomore transfer from Connors State, Ok., supplied the spark by scoring eight of his 10 points and making two of his three steals during the second half.
Kilgore (22-5/13-5) held a 29-26 halftime advantage, but the Bulldogs struck for 13 points and kept the Rangers off the scoreboard for seven-and-one-half minutes.
Sophomore transfer Mike Daniel’s three from the left wing at 17:55 gave NC a 31-29 lead and momentum it wouldn’t relinquish. Jamar Goodwin added two free throws, Jones maneuvered inside for two buckets off glass, and leading scorer DaShawn Robinson connected on a pair of free throws.
By the 13:00 mark, Kilgore had committed 7 team fouls, failed to score, and found itself trailing 39-29, but the Rangers fought back behind the floor play and wizardry of sophomore guard Stefan Moody.
Moody, who committed to Ole Miss, had a game-high 23 points and fueled an 11-2 response that pulled the Rangers within one (41-40) at 9:00, before Duan Wright’s one-handed jam re-established Navarro’s lead.
NC held a 47-46 lead with 3:49 to go when Robinson was fouled on a three-point try. The Houston freshman sank three free throws to enhance his 8-of-11 foul shooting in the game.
With 1:57 remaining, the teams traded buckets. Goodwin intercepted a KC pass inside and Robinson converted with a running, off-balance jumper for a 53-50 lead. Countering, however, for the Rangers, was Jonathan Milligan who drove from baseline left for a shot off glass.
Inside the final :36.8, Jones rebounded Moody’s missed layup from the right, and was fouled by Robert Joiner. Jones sank free throws for a 55-52 lead.
Navarro, with only six team fouls for the half, gave one with :07.6 and sent Moody to the foul line. The 78.2% percent foul shooter missed his first try, and KC immediately fouled Shannon Lilly.Lilly’s first and only point of the game extended the lead to four.
While holding an opponent below 60 for the sixth time this year, NC held Jamarcus Weatherspoon eight points below his 14.3 average and held sophomore Kalif Wright (11.7 pg) scoreless.
KILGORE (52): Stefan Moody 23, Aaron Dailey 9, Tom Wamukota 7, Jamarcus Weatherspoon 6, Jonathan Milligan 4, Robert Joiner 3. TOTALS: 15-0-(19-25)-52.
NAVARRO (56): DaShawn Robinson 15, Troy Jones 10, Jamar Goodwin 9, Duan Wright 7, Mike Daniel 5, Trey Young 3, Cris Boleware 2, Toney Foster 2, Jaleel Cousins 2, Shannon Lilly 1. TOTALS: 10-4-(24-32)-56.
HALFTIME: Kilgore 29, Navarro 26.