By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
Navarro did it the Runnin' Bulldogs way at the Region XIV Tournament on Friday night -- grinding out another win.
The Runnin' Bulldogs did it this time with second-chance points, overcoming a 13-point first half deficit to beat San Jacinto 79-75 in a semifinal game at UT-Tyler's Herrington Patriot Center.
Navarro (25-7) is in the Region XIV Tournament Championship Game for the sixth time in seven years, this time against Lee College. The No. 5-seeded Runnin' Rebels stunned top-seed Kilgore 88-73 in the first semifinal game Friday night.
Navarro actually was hopeful for a third game against Kilgore, which has already won an automatic bid to the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. starting March 17. A Kilgore win would have meant Navarro would already have a national tournament bid sowed up with a Friday's win.
Now Navarro has to do what it has done three of the last four years -- win the tournament. The Bulldogs are 13-1 in their last 14 games in the regional tournament, their only defeat a quarterfinal loss to Paris in 2011.
The Runnin' Bulldogs keep winning here in Tyler because they can win close games. They found away against San Jacinto despite trailing 55-48 with 13:09 left in the game.
Navarro went on a 9-1 run to take a 57-56 lead with 8:34 left, crashing the boards to take the lead. Toney Foster and Jamar Goodwin both had putbacks during the run. It was a trend that played out the whole night -- Navarro outrebounded San Jacinto 60-34 and had 26 second-chance points to just four for the Ravens in the game.
"We worked hard tonight," Navarro coach Johnny Estelle said. "We grinded out a win. San Jacinto is a really tough team to play. They have four guys who can handle it and shoot the three. We found a way."
Navarro tried to get away from San Jacinto after finally taking its second lead of the game, but twice Ravens point guard Danny Lawhorn made a clutch 3-pointer to tie things, the second at 64-64 with 5:17 left in the game.
With the score still knotted at 67-67, Navarro made two plays to take the lead for good. First Harrison Hawkins, coming off the bench for the second straight game, made a three-point play, driving to the basket after a strong pick from Lamark Barnes and making a layup as he was fouled. Hawkins made a free throw for a 70-67 lead with 3:35 left.
"It was just wide open," Hawkins said. "Lamark set a great pick and I just took it straight in."
Navarro freshman guard Toney Foster, who was the team's leading scorer for a second straight night with 19 points, made a layup on the Bulldogs' next possession for a 72-67 lead.
Hawkins, who had 17 points, provided a dagger with a 3-poiner with 1:06 left for a 75-69 lead, though the Bulldogs did need clutch free throws down the stretch.
Navarro got off to a poor start shooting the ball and trailed 37-24 late in the first half. But the Bulldogs went on a 15-2 run to end the half to tie the game at 39-39.
Reserve Brandon Scott ignited the spurt, hitting a 3-pointer at one end and then drawing a charge at the other end of the floor to give Navarro some much needed momentum.
"We had some guys really stepped up tonight," Estelle said.
No 2 Navarro 79, No. 3 San Jacinto 75
San Jacinto (75): Tyrone Marshall 9, Zach Lofton 3, Danny Lawhorn 19, Brandon Chatman 12, Mohammed Lee 16, Chris Rios 5, Uzonna Akazi 7, Javaria Jones 4.
Navarro (79): Princeton Onwas 3, Terrance Syon 1, Lamark Barnes 2, Jonathan Benn 4, David Woodard 11, Toney Foster 17, Duan Wright 19, Jamar Goodwin 9, Brandon Scott 3, Justin Phillipe 4.
3-pointers -- San Jacinto 10-24 (Lawhorn 5, Charman 3, Lofton 1, Rios 1), Navarro 6-18 (Hawkins 2, Onwas 1, Foster 1, Goodwin 1, Scott 1).
Rebounds -- San Jacinto 34 (Jones 9, Marshall 5, Chatman 5), Navarro 60 (Foster 10, Syon 7, Barnes 7, Woodard 6, Goodwin 6).
Assists -- San Jacinto 7 (Lawhorn 3), Navarro 7 (Benn 2).
Turnovers -- San Jacinto 11, Navarro 12.
Halftime -- Navarro 39, San Jacinton 39.