By MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Daily Sun
TYLER — Pick a metaphor: A snowball that wouldn’t stop growing? A runaway train? A car out of control?
It doesn’t matter how you say it or how many times you say it, in the end this one comes out the same.
Navarro let one get away on Wednesday — and it was the most costly game of the season.
The Bulldogs were stunned and shocked by Angelina in the opening round of the Region XIV Men’s Basketball Tournament at Tyler Junior College’s Wagstaff Gym, where Navarro’s season ended in a 82-76 loss to the Roadrunners, who are the No. 12 seed in the tournament.
The NCAA Tournament is full of a history of No. 12s upsetting No. 5’s but this is new to the NJCAA and no one saw this one coming.
The Bulldogs had stormed their way into the postseason and had won seven of their last eight games, including Saturday’s regular season finale win over Trinity Valley, which knocked TVCC out of the No. 1 seed for the tournament and lifted Navarro to the No. 5 seed.
The Bulldogs were silent and had a look of disbelief as they left the court.
First-year Coach Michael Landers was so upset he just went off by himself for a few minutes, and then when he came back to the locker room, he put it bluntly.
“A bad game plan, bad coaching decisions,’’ he said. “We got out-played. We got out-coached. We got out-hustled.’’
It all fell apart in the second half.
Everything looked right for the Bulldogs, who took control of Wednesday’s game and appeared to be headed to Thursday’s quarterfinal game.
They hit 7 of 16 3-pointers in the first half (43.8 percent) and after falling behind 5-0 in the opening seconds of the game, simply took over. Navarro went to the half leading 37-26 and opened the second half with a strong move inside from Troy Jones to take a 13-point lead, 39-26. They built the lead to 14 points when Duan Wright slammed in a dunk off an offensive rebound to give Navarro a 45-31 lead.
Then it happened.
An Angelina team that has lost to Navarro in the regular season and looked like it was ready to pack its bag and call it a year, came out of nowhere and ripped off a 19-0 run that gave the Roadrunners the lead and seemed to take the wind right out of Navarro.
The Roadrunners started slowly by chipping away and then Deckie Johnson took over.
Johnson scored 12 of the 19 points that turned the game around and a run all his own. He had an and-one play that closed the gap to 45-38 and then came right back with an inside move to make it 45-40 before hitting a pair of free throws to close the gap to 45-42.
And when Navarro didn’t answer, Johnson drilled a 3 and was fouled on the play. He bagged the free throw to complete a four-point play and lift Angelina 46-45 lead to complete a personal 11-0 run. He had three points at halftime and finished with 23 points, scoring almost as much as Angelina had scored during the first half.
“The difference in this game is when Deckie Johnson came alive,’’ Angelina Coach Todd Neighbors said. “He got going and gave us life and then everybody else got going and came to life.’’
Angelina just kept coming and built the lead to 50-45 to complete the 19-0 run before Chris Boleware ended the drought with a 3-pointer and ensuing a free throw with 10:50 left to play, closing the gap to 50-49.
But Navarro (21-10) was never the same after the Angelina run — a run that defined the game and ended Navarro’s season.
“We just couldn’t stop them from scoring,’’ Landers said of the 19-0 killer run. “And we couldn’t find a way to score a basket. We didn’t make adjustments.’’
Angelina never relinquished the lead, scoring just enough to keep Navarro at bay. The Bulldogs closed to 55-54 on an outside shot by Shannon Lilly, but Angelina answered with 3 to keep the lead at 58-54. Navarro made another run to close to 64-62 with 4:06 left, but Angelina’s Jordan Bilbo hit his only shot of the game — a 3-pointer to make it a 67-62 game. It was that kind of game for the Bulldogs.
Quentin Ellis, who finished with 16 points, followed Bilbo’s timely 3 by dropping in a pair of free throws to give Angelina a 69-62 edge with 2:30 left. Navarro never got within three points again as Angelina built the lead in the closing minutes.
Boleware finished with 22 points and Jones finished with 14 to lead Navarro, which couldn’t find a 3 when it needed one in the second half. After burning the nets down with seven 3s, the Bulldogs went 2-for-12 from beyond the arc in the second half.