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By CHARLES RICHARDS
RICHARDSON, Texas – Paris held stubbornly onto a small lead in the second half, making 11 free throws in the final 1:26 to hold off the 13th-ranked Connors State Cowboys 70-65 Saturday in the Joe Huey Classic Tournament at Richland College.
The win was PJC’s fourth straight, improving its record to 6-3. Connors State lost for the first time after opening the season with a 9-0 record.
Eddie Leal led the Dragons with 17 points. Chris Jones added 12 points – all in the last five and a half minutes – and Antonio Arnold scored 10 points.
Connors State was successful the first half driving into the middle of the PJC defense and drawing fouls. The Cowboys were 4-of-7 from the free throw line in the first half and 9-of-13 in the second half before Leal took a charge that seemed to turn the tide with 3:19 left in the game and Paris holding a 55-52 lead.
Jones scored the Dragons’ next six points on two drives and a pair of free throws, putting Paris up 61-54 with 57 seconds to play.
The Cowboys made a 3-pointer to get to 61-57 with 48 seconds left, but then had to foul in desperation, and Paris went 7-for-10 from the line over the next 28 seconds for a 68-57 lead that put the game out of reach.
“I’m so proud of these guys. Big time win. Big time win for the Dragons. Anytime you can beat the 13th-ranked team in the country, that shows you’re making progress,” PJC coach Chuck Taylor said.
“That’s the way my teams are. We start slow, our team is built on execution and doing things the right way, and it takes some time for them to learn all that. Our schedule has helped us and prepared us for not only conference play but for the tough schedule that we’ve got.”
Taylor had special praise for Jones and post Marcus Holt for their play in the closing minutes.
“Jones came in and did a hell of a job. I’m proud of that young man. Marcus came in and did some good things. He got some rebounds and finished around the rim twice, and those are the things you’ve got to do to be successful,” Taylor said.
“The Dragons are getting better. We’ve still got a ways to go, but we’re getting better,” the coach said.
Sophomore guard Anthony Adams had to leave the game when he went down hard on a drive to the basket with 14:11 remaining in the second half. He hurt his left hip, but re-entered the game briefly in the final minute.
“He’s a little sore. He and Mo (Mitchell) are both going to need an ice pack when we get back, and try to take the stiffness out of them,” Taylor said. “Those are two of my toughest players.”
Mitchell left late in the game with what appeared to be a sprained ankle.
Connors State led 21-16 and 23-18 in the first half, but Leal and Mike Harmon made 3-pointers and Mitchell made a free throw during a 7-0 run that gave Paris a 25-23 lead with 1:58 to play in the first half.
The Cowboys got a pair of free throws to tie the game, but Antonio Arnold nailed a 3-pointer at 1:02 for a 28-25 halftime lead, and PJC never trailed again, although Connors State managed a tie at one point (44-44).
Taylor liked his team’s tenaciousness on defense. Connors State seldom got more than one chance at a basket.
“That’s our motto – no shots, or one shot. Don’t give up a second shot opportunity,” Taylor said.
PJC’s fourth straight victory improves the team to 6-3 for the season going into a stretch of three conference games in eight days, beginning with a home game against Coastal Bend on Wednesday.
The Dragons, who are 1-0 after beating Blinn 59-56 in Brenham on Tuesday, go to Pasadena to play San Jacinto on Saturday and return to the Hunt Center to play Lamar State-Port Arthur a week from Wednesday.
The Dragons and the six other teams in the North Zone of Region 14 start conference play with games against the seven teams in the South Zone, after which they will play home-and-home against the teams in their own zone – a total of 19 league games.
After the first four conference games, the Dragons have a non-conference game on Dec. 8 at Eastfield Community College in Dallas. Then they’re off for three and a half weeks during semester break before resuming play on Jan. 1-2 in a tournament hosted by Neosho College in Chanute, Kan.
Connors State 25-40–65
Paris (6-3) – Eddie Leal 6 2-5 17, Antonio Arnold 3 4-8 12, Chris Jones 2 6-8 10, Mike Harmon 3 1-2 8, Mo Mitchell 3 1-3 7, Anthony Adams 3 0-0 6, Marcus Holt 2 1-2 5, Delvin Dickerson 0 3-4 3, Will Ransom 0 2-2 2, David Tucker 0 0-0 0, Sheldon Yearwood 0 0-0 0, Courtney Austin 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 20-34 70. Three-Point Shots: 6 (Leal 3, Arnold 2, Harmon 1).