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Chuck Taylor, coach of the Paris Dragons, can hardly wait for Saturday’s 2 p.m. tip-off of his team’s basketball game against Navarro College.
Navarro’s Runnin’ Bulldogs (19-5 overall and 11-2 in Region 14 play), are one of the nation’s hottest junior college teams, having won 15 of their last 17 games.
After a sluggish start in November and December, followed by a terrible first two weeks of of January, the Dragons (12-12, 6-7) now are playing as well as anyone in the league, and Taylor likes his team’s chances for an upset of Navarro.
PJC has won four of its last six games. The two losses came at Navarro and at Tyler, and both games came down to Paris getting a final possession with the game on the line, but not scoring either time.
“We had an opportunity to win both,” Taylor said. “We’re playing good basketball, and our guys are starting to figure out their roles and what it takes to win.”
As the Dragons discovered when they played in Corsicana three weeks ago, Navarro has probably the most raucous fans in the conference.
Taylor would like Navarro to experience the same kind of reception on Saturday.
“I want to get the word out – we need this place packed. We need it full,” Taylor said. “We’ve had that in past years, and that’s been a big advantage to us. Other teams don’t like to come here.”
A win over Navarro on Saturday, Taylor said, would send the clear message: the Dragons are back.
“This game is huge for us, for our psyche as much as anything. A win will get the message across not only for us but for Navarro. We want Navarro to know we are as good as they are.”
“If we beat Navarro, we can beat anybody,” Taylor said.
But there’s no way to underestimate Navarro, Taylor said.
“They run 15 guys at you. They play hard. They’re extremely tough. They’re well-coached, very well-coached,” he said.
Harrison Hawkins of Navarro is one of the league’s better 3-point shooters. He made six 3-pointers against Tyler last weekend, and five more on Wednesday against Trinity Valley. The Dragons will be aware of the outside threat that Hawkins represents.
Navarro is known for its aggressive man-to-man defense.
“We’re a physical team. That’s our identity, playing tough defense,” Navarro coach Johnny Estelle says. “I know the crowd likes offense. I like to score points. But it’s all about being a tough team. Playing good defense makes it tough.”
The Bulldogs’ style of play leads to a lot of fouls. In the Bulldogs’ two games last week against Kilgore and Tyler, there were a total of 157 free throws – 92 by Kilgore and Tyler combined and 65 by Navarro.
The free throws helped Tyler hand Navarro only its second conference loss last Saturday. Three days earlier, Kilgore missed 19 of its 50 free throws and Navarro won comfortably.
“We’ve got to make our free throws. We’ve got to. We’ve got to. We cannot leave those points on the board,” Taylor said.
Paris is led by its captain, 5-8 guard Anthony Adams, and a trio of 3-point specialists – Eddie Leal, Mike Harmon and Antonio Arnold.
Inside, the Dragons rely on the muscle and rebounding of Sheldon Yearwood, Delvin Dickerson, Will Ransom and Mo Mitchell, with contributions also from 6-11 centers Lamar Walker and Marcus Holt.
In Paris’ game at Navarro on Jan. 19, the Dragons jumped out to a 10-4 lead and led by as much as 10 points in the first half. Navarro’s only lead came on Duan Wright’s 3-pointer that caromed off the backboard for a 31-30 at the halftime buzzer. It was his only points of the game.
Then Navarro opened the second half with four straight 3-pointers – two by Hawkins and two by Princeton Onwas, and Paris found itself behind 47-38 just five minutes into the second half.
Anthony – who was the Region 14 Player of the Week twice last season and once already this season – led the Dragons on a 13-2 run that catapulted the Dragons into a 51-49 lead by midway through the second half.
There were five ties and seven lead changes in the final 12:16. Navarro made four of six free throws down the stretch, including two by Toney Foster for a 60-57 lead with 52.2 seconds left.
Arnold missed a 3-pointer with 22 seconds to play, but was fouled. He made the first shot to cut the lead to 60-58, but missed the second shot.
Navarro got the long rebound, but Anthony stole the ball and drove the base line for an apparent basket, accompanied by a foul.
Paris fans thought that tied the game 60-all with Anthony at the line for a chance at the lead. But referees ruled that the foul occurred before the shot, so it was no basket and Anthony had two shots.
He made both to tie the game.
Navarro got the ball to the 5-10 Hawkins, who had spent the game guarding Anthony, and vice versa.
Hawkins drove straight toward the goal with four seconds left, went up and got fouled with the body. His first free throw gave Navarro a 61-60 lead. His second was no good, but Foster went up for a tip-in that made the final margin 63-60.
According to the Corsicana Sun, Taylor stopped Estelle in the hallway after Navarro’s win and told him he wanted his team to learn to close out wins like the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
“It was a typical Navarro-Paris game,” Estelle told the newspaper. “Both teams were trying to grind out a win.”
The Dragons played the Bulldogs “as tough as any opponent this season,” the newspaper reported.
by Charles Richards