Ronnie White puts a “I Love You, Man!” embrace on Jovan Austin after his teammate made the winning basket that put Paris into the Region XIV championship game. Delvin Dickerson (5) shows his glee. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)
TYLER — Jovan Austin’s lay-up off the glass with 3.3 seconds to play gave top-seeded Paris Junior College a 68-66 victory Friday night over fourth-seeded Lamar State-Port Arthur in the semifinals of the Region XIV basketball tournament.
The Dragons will play No. 2 seed Trinity Valley (27-5) for the championship at 8 p.m. Saturday, with the winner earning a berth in the March 18-22 NJCAA junior college championships.
Trinity Valley made Saturday’s finals by defeating No. 6 seed Kilgore (25-5) in Friday’s other semifinal
Trevon Seymore led Paris with 16 points, followed by Austin and Ronnie White with 15 points each. Tre Bennett of Lamar State led all scorers with 27 points, which included 13-of-14 free throws. Jamal Shabazz added 16 points.
Lamar State’s season ended at 25-7.
Ronnie White (25) celebrates with Paris fans after the climactic victory. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)
Austin had made two free throws for a 75-69 lead with 1:05 to play, but incredibly, Lamar State got back into the game.
Fourteen seconds later, Ivan Jelencic hit a 3-pointer to cut Paris’ lead in half.
Paris fans likely were saying to each other: “If the Dragons can just make their free throws, they’ve got this one won.”
But Paris was unable to get the ball down court. With 46.4 seconds to play, the Dragons turned the ball over against Lamar State’s full-court press.
Bennett immediately drove into the middle of Paris defenders and threw up a shot. It missed, but he was fouled on the play. He made both his free throws to cut the lead to 75-74 with 42.2 seconds still remaining.
Bennett fouled Austin outside with 20.2 seconds to play, and when he made one of two free throws, the Seahawks took the ball down court, needing two points to tie and three points to take the lead.
With 19 seconds left, Bennett missed a lay-up, but Shabazz was there to stuff the ball in the net for a 76-76 tie.
Paris called time out, and Paris coach Chuck Dragon decided to put the ball in the hands of Austin. The coach told Austin not to shoot until under five seconds was on the clock, to diminish the chances of Bennett following with a score at the other end.
Lamar State gave Austin plenty of room, and he dribbled out front, then drove into the left side of the lane, putting up a left-handed lay-up off the glass for the winning basket with 3.3 seconds to go.
Bennett got as far as mid-court before he had to put up a desperation 3-pointer. It wasn’t close, and Paris had the victory.
With the win, Paris avenged the only conference team it hadn’t beaten this season. In early January, the Dragons led Lamar State by 10 points with four minutes to go, but the Seahawks closed with a 19-3 run and won 76-70.
Paris led 43-42 at intermission Friday night and stretched the lead to 49-43 in the next two minutes. But it apparently wasn’t intended to be easy, and the Seahawks closed to 51-50 on a 7-2 run.
Two free throws by Delvin Dickerson, a basket by White, a 3-pointer by Brandon Scott and a free throw by Seymore gave Paris its largest lead at 58-52 midway through the second half.
But the Dragons went through a stretch where they made only three of eight free throws, and with 6:18 to play the Seahawks took a 64-62 lead on a shot by Shabazz.
Meanwhile, one of Paris’ 6-9 centers, Nouhoum Bohoum had fouled out, and both Joe Haynes and the Dragons’ other 6-9 center, White, had picked up their fourth foul.
Which forced Paris head coach Chuck Taylor, with his team trailing 67-62 with 5:45 remaining, “to play small ball,” he said.
The Dragons responded by going on an 11-0 run to turn their 5-point deficit into a 6-point lead at 73-67 with 1:48 to play.
As important in that streak as the offense was the great defense that Paris strapped on Lamar State, holding them possession after possession to “one and done.” The Seahawks would miss and Paris would grab the rebound.
White started the 11-0 run with a short shot off the glass (4:55). Then Dickerson hit a 3-pointer (4:22), then two free throws by Haynes (3:49), a goal-tending call on Seymore’s shot (3:26), and finally another basket by Seymour (1:48).
Bennett made two free throws to get the Seahawks back to within four points at 73-69 with 1:36 to play, but Austin’s two free throws gave Paris a six-point cushion again with only 1:05 showing on the clock.
Any fans who left UT-Tyler’s Herrington Patriot Center at that time, thinking the game was over had not watched enough Region XIV basketball.
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra