By MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Sun —
ATHENS — Navarro’s Bulldogs left Athens Wednesday stunned, shocked, numb and sick to their stomachs.
That’s how much this 78-77 loss to Trinity Valley hurt.
Navarro had the Cardinals, who are the No. 1-ranked junior college basketball team in the nation, down and appeared ready to pull off the upset but TVCC scored six points in the final 26 seconds to erase a 77-72 deficit, grabbing the final lead of the night on a drive by Josh Stamps with nine seconds left. It was the only time all night the Cardinals led.
What hurt even more about those maddening final 26 seconds is that Navarro took only one shot down the stretch, missing a short jumper at the buzzer to end the night that began with the Bulldogs hitting the court absolutely on fire.
The Dawgs ran out to a 17-0 lead and made their first seven 3-pointers of the night to shock TVCC and a packed house. It seemed as if the night belonged to the Bulldogs.
Navarro’s D’Angelo Hunter went 5 for 5 from beyond the arc and went to halftime with 17 points, but the Bulldogs, who led 49-34 at halftime, couldn’t hang on against a very physical and aggressive TVCC team that banged and bruised the Dawgs all night, forcing 24 turnovers, including eight over the final eight minutes of the half when the Cardinals sprinted to a 21-14 run to go to halftime down by 15.
The Bulldogs, who made 8 of 11 treys in the first half, hit only two 3-pointers in the second half (2 of 9) and watched the Cardinals cut into the lead. There’s a reason the Cardinals are the No. 1 team in the nation. They are bullies in the paint with quicksilver guards who run the floor with speed and confidence — just the kind of team every coach dreams of having and the kind of team that knows how to win.
And more thing: TVCC never quit.
If body language means anything the Cardinals looked and played like a team that never felt like the game was over, regardless of the score.
The Dawgs never quit and never dreamed of quitting, keeping the lead no matter how many times TVCC made a run. Navarro simply came up with one big play after another, and when TVCC closed to 66-63 with 7:40 left the Dawgs snapped right back with some brilliant play from Tyler Whitehead, who hit a put-back in traffic and went inside on the next possession to lift the Dawgs to a 70-65 cushion. Saint Hilaire answered TVCC with a coast-to-coast drive to make it 72-67 and then Whitehead hit a turnaround jumper with 3:58 to give the Dawgs a 74-67 lead.
Hyron Edwards, who led TVCC with 22 points, hit a drive to cut the lead to 74-71 but Navarro’s Keir Anderson dropped in a pair of free throws with 2:24 to bump the lead back to five at 76-71.
The Dawgs had the ball and a 76-72 lead with 1:57 left but both teams turned the ball over twice and missed key shots in a frantic finish that didn’t slow down until Whitehead stepped to the free throw line with 32 seconds left.
He made the first for a 77-72 lead but missed the second. Both teams went for the rebound and Navarro was whistled immediately for a foul with the ball still dangling in the air and no one with control.
TVCC’s Leon Gillmore missed the front end of a one-and-one situation with 30.8 seconds left, but TVCC got the long rebound and went back to Gillmore, who scored inside with 26 seconds left, cutting the lead to 77-74.
Stamps made a steal on Navarro’s inbounds pass and Hilaire was whistled immediately for a foul, putting Stamps on the free throw line with 25.4 seconds left as Navarro was charged with two fouls in a span of 5.4 seconds after Whitehead’s missed free throw on a night when the officials allowed both teams to play very physical the entire game.
Stamps set up his last-shot heroics by nailing both free throws to close the gap to 77-76. TVCC, which used a devastating press to force turnovers down the stretch, forced its 12th turnover of the second half, making a steal before Navarro crossed the half court line. But the Cardinals, in an attempt to push the ball back up the court, lost control and the ball bounced out of bounds on the TVCC end of the court with 15.7 seconds left.
After a short meeting the officials gave the ball back to TVCC, ruling Navarro had not crossed half court in 10 seconds. Stamps drove the right baseline for a 78-77 lead with nine seconds left.
TVCC fans stormed the court in wild pandemonium, celebrating the remarkable comeback by their Cardinals, who are now 27-1 and riding a 22-game winning streak.
Navarro’s Hunter didn’t score in the second half and finished with 17 points, and Jamar Martin, who hit three treys, finished with 16. Whitehead scored 11 of his 12 points in the second half.
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