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PARIS – Eddie Leal scored 24 points and Paris Junior College got clutch performances all around as the Dragons never trailed in defeating 15th-ranked Kilgore College 62-58 Wednesday night.
Paris improved to 10-11 overall and 4-6 in Region XIV play. Kilgore dropped to 17-3, 7-3.
After having lost four of five games the first half of the month, including three conference games, Paris has now put together three straight impressive performances – wins over Bossier and Kilgore and a loss to Navarro in the final two seconds.
Leal had two 3-pointers among his nine field goals. Delvin Dickerson added 10 points and Anthony Adams 8. Quinton Upshur led Kilgore (17-3, 7-3) with 18 points, including three 3-pointers. Lonnie McClanahan added 14 points and Mo Taylor 11 points.
“It’s taken some time to get everybody on board and understanding their roles, but we did some really good things tonight. Slowly and gradually we’re getting where we need to be,” Paris head coach Chuck Taylor said.
“We’re finally becoming a team,” Taylor said.
He recalled that last weekend that Navarro opened the second half by hitting four straight 3-pointers against Dragons.
“They came out and punched us in the face,” Taylor said. “Well, the thing I thought we did tonight, we came out and punched them in the face.”
Paris scored the first seven points of the first half and the first eight points of the second half. The Dragons led from start to finish.
Trailing 52-42 with six minutes to play, Kilgore went on a 9-0 run to get within a point with 3:14 to play, and play was tense the rest of the way.
Crucial in the win were back-to-back baskets by Leal, a 6-4 sophomore guard, and 6-8 freshman forward Will Ransom, giving the Dragons a 58-53 lead with 45 seconds to play.
“That was pretty much the ball game,” Taylor said.
“Eddie shot the (heck) out of the ball today. He took good shots. He made a big time shot late with a guy all over him. That was a huge, huge bucket.”
At the time, Paris led 54-53 and the shot clock was running out. Heavily guarded, Leal made an off-balance shot from 15 feet out to stretch the lead out to 56-53 with two minutes to play.
With 45 seconds left, Paris missed a shot, but Ransom nudged the ball back over the rim to make it 58-53.
Kilgore scored twice more – once on a 3-pointer – but was forced to foul in hopes Paris would miss at the free throw line.
However, the Dragons made sure to get the ball into the hands of Adams, who made four free throws in the final 27 seconds to seal the win.
“You know, we put the ball in the leader’s hands. He’s our floor general; he’s our captain. However he goes, we go. He’s really been playing great the last three or four games,” the Paris coach said.
On both in-bound plays after Kilgore’s two field goals in the last minute, sophomore guard Antonio Arnold was designated to throw the ball in. He had only two targets — Adams or Leal, the team’s best two free throw shooters.
“He knew, ‘You get it to Ant. Or to Eddie. Or call a time out. In that order.’ That’s what I needed,” the Paris coach said.
Paris was 16-of-19 (84.2 percent) from the charity line to 14-of-24 (58.3 percent) for Kilgore.
“I thought that was the difference in the game,” Kilgore coach Brian Hoberecht said.
Leal and Adams each were 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Dickerson was 3-for-3, and Mike Harmon was 2-for-2.
“Paris should feel good about themselves. They played well tonight. They found a way to win, and this one goes to them,”Hoberecht said. “Hopefully, we can use this as an opportunity to improve and make our team a little bit better before the stretch run and before the playoffs start.”
In contrast with last year, when the Dragons went into the post-season regional tournament as the No. 1 seed, they find themselves near the bottom of the standings this season.
Ten conference games remain, but Paris finds itself five games behind Navarro (9-1, 17-4) in the North Zone.
The two top teams each zone get a first-round bye in the March 6-10 tournament at Tyler, and the No. 1 seed wins one of two Region XIV berths in the national tournament March 18-23 at Hutchinson, Kan.
After losing three straight league games and seven of nine games overall, Taylor had said his goal now was “just to make it to the tournament.”
Only the top 12 teams out of the 14-team conference advance to the tournament.
PJC remains 11th out of the 14 teams. It’s 4-6 league record is ahead of Blinn (3-7), Bossier (1-8) and Panola (0-10).
The Dragons trail four teams in the North — Navarro (9-1), Kilgore (7-3), Tyler (6-3) and Trinity Valley (4-5) — and six of the seven teams in the South — Angelina (7-3), Jacksonville (6-4), San Jacinto (5 -4), Lamar-Port Arthur (5-4), Lee (5-4), and Coastal Bend (5-5).
But the Dragons feel they can take out any team in the conference on any given day. It should give them confidence knowing that among their 10 victims this season weare four ranked teams — three of whom were undefeated until Paris knocked them off. The tougher the opposition, the better PJC seems to play.
“One thing I do know, if the guys continue to play the way they’re playing, and improve the way they have been, we’ve got as good a shot as anybody in a three or four day tournament,” Taylor said.
The Paris coach said he was talking to two coaches earlier in the day and one of them told him he was underestimating his team.
Taylor said that coach told him:
“I know you don’t think your guys are guarding the way they are supposed to, and you think they’re doing this and doing that, but I’m just going to tell you, we do not want to see you guys in the tournament. At all. Period. Trust me, I’ve watched enough tape on y’all. Your guys are doing things a lot better than you give them credit for.”
That was “kind of refreshing” to hear, Taylor said.
“I think the biggest thing we’re doing now that we didn’t do earlier is, we’re trusting our teammates a lot more than they’ve done in the past.”
Leal, who played at Collin County last season as a freshman, is hoping there’s life in basketball for him beyond Paris Junior College.
Kilgore came after Leal, and he can expect the same week after week, Taylor said. He said he feels Leal is up to the challenge.
“If you’ve got toughness like Eddie Leal, you can’t get soft because they’re getting physical with you. I told him,’This is what you’re going to see all next year. This is your training ground right here.’
“I told him, ‘I don’t want to hear any excuses. Don’t come over here saying this guy’s hitting you or this guy’s grabbing you. That’s why we’ve been in the weight room. You’ve got to get through it some way, somehow.’ And he did. He had a phenomenal game tonight.”
Kilgore (7-3, 17-3) – Lonnie McClanahan 6 2-4 14, Quinton Upshur 5 5-8 18, Chinedu Amajoyi 1 0-0 3, Andre Horne 1 0-0 2, Mo Taylor 3 5-6 11, Kalif Wright 3 0-0 6, Matt Gamberoni 1 0-0 2, Erick Diouf 0 2-6 2. Totals: 20 14-24 58. Three-Pointers: 4 (Upshur 3, Amajoyi 1). Fouls: 18.
Paris (4-6, 10-11) – Antonio Arnold 1 0-0 3, Mike Harmon 0 2-2 2, Anthony Adams 2 4-4 8, Chris Jones 2 0-0 4, David Tucker 0 0-0 0, Delvin Dickerson 3 3-3 10, Eddie Leal 9 4-4 24, Lamar Walker 1 0-0 2, Sheldon Yearwood 1 2-4 4, Marcus Holt 0 0-0 0, Courtney Austin 0 0-0 0, Mo Mitchell 1 0-0 2, Will Ransom 1 1-2 3. Totals: 21 16-19 62. Three-Pointers: 4 (Leal 2, Arnold 1, Dickerson 1). Fouls: 22.
PJC players shown are Mike Harmon (5), David Tucker (20) and Eddie Leal (partially hidden, beyond Tucker).
Anthony Adams drives the baseline against a Kilgore defender.
The Dragons’ Sheldon Yearwood is about to in-bound the ball after Paris has already scored eight straight points to open the second half of Wednesday’s game with Kilgore.
Kilgore’s players gather excitedly for a time out with 3:13 to play after the Rangers completed a 9-0 run to come from a 52-42 deficit to 52-51.
Imy Walters gives Leal an “attaboy” moments after time expired in the Dragons’ 62-58 victory over Kilgore.
Dragons coach Chuck Taylor (black suit) and Kilgore coach Brian Hoberecht shake hands after the game
Anthony Adams takes the ball across center court in the second half of Wednesday’s 62-58 victory over Kilgore. In the background are thee of the Dragons’ most loyal fans — home or away. From left are Earl Erickson, Jess Nickerson and Freddy Swaim.
By CHARLES RICHARDS