Johnny Estelle has figured out how to get the most out of his Navarro teams at the Region XIV Tournament. The Runnin' Bulldogs coach was it again Thursday night.
Estelle had to flip flop his point guards, starting Jonathan Benn over starter Harrison Hawkins, and the duo played their most effective game together of the season, lifting Navarro to a 83-70 victory over Lamar State-Port Arthur in a Region XIV Quarterfinal Game at UT-Tyler's Herrington Patriot Center.
The Runnin Bulldogs (24-7), the tournament No. 2 seed, advanced to Friday's second semifinal at 8 p.m. against either No. 3 San Jacinto and No. 6 Tyler, who played late Thursday night.
Navarro has made it as far as the semifinals at the regional semifinals for six of the last seven years, getting a big effort from its point guards almost always during that run. Benn and Keith Wright did it as freshmen last season. This time it was Benn and Harrison, who combined for 27 points and just five turnovers.
Estelle made the decision to go with Benn as his starter, knowing he had Hawkins waiting in the wings. Hawkins has been Navarro's best 3-point shooter while Benn has struggled with an ankle injury and is just now healthy.
"Harrison is an important part of our team," Estelle said. "Johnathan played well here last year and was ready to do it again."
Hawkins entered the game for the first time with 14:54 left in the game and made an immediate impact. He hit a 3-pointer from the right wing the first time he launched a shot, starting a run of seven consecutive points by the Compton, Calif. sophomore that snapped a tie and gave Navarro a 50-43 lead.
"I was just excited to get in," Hawkins said. "I was excited about checking in and high fiving someone."
Navarro never trailed after that. Toney Foster, who led the Bulldogs with 15 points, made some key shots in the final minutes as Navarro built a 70-56 lead with 3:30 left.
Benn provided the lift in the first half, as Navarro led most of the first 20 minutes with Estelle deciding not to play Hawkins. Benn scored 10 points in the first half, doing what he did last year on the way to a regional title and the national tournament, getting to the free throw line.
Benn was aggressive and either got a basket or got fouled. He made 4 of his 5 free throws in the first half as Navarro built a 32-27 lead with 3:41 left in the first half.
But Lamar State made a run, scoring the last seven points of the half to take its first lead since 2-0 advantage early. Ty Allen, who scored a game-high 28 points, made a 3-pointer with 1:28 left in the first half for a 34-32 halftime lead.
Navarro trailed by four points early in the second half when the Bulldogs got some important points in the paint. Lamark Barnes, who scored 8 of his 9 points in the second half, scored four straight points to rally Navarro from its biggest deficit of four points to a tie the game at 40-40 with 16:16 left in the game.
That set up the Harrison heroics, and keeps the Bulldogs in the running for their fourth trip in five years to Hutchinson, Kan. If Navarro and Kilgore both win Friday night, the Runnin' Bulldogs will have a berth secured to nationals.
If Kilgore loses to Lee, Navarro needs to win Friday and Saturday to get to Hutch.
It's all out their for the Bulldogs.
Navarro 83, Lamar State-Port Arthur 70
Lamar State (70) -- Kieran Allen 12, Ty Allen 28, Anthony Allen 5, Jamal Shabazz 8, Tre Bennett 11, Korbin McClain 4, Travis Wildgoose 2.
Navarro (83) -- Jonathan Benn 14, Princeton Onwas 7, David Woodard 8, Terrance Syon 6, Lamark Barnes 9, Harrison Hawkins 13, Toney Foster 15, Duan Wright 2, Jamar Goodwin 4, Justin Phillipe 5.
Rebounds -- Lamar State 40 (Jamal Shabazz 14), Navarro 46 (Terrance Syon 9, Jonathan Benn 7, Duan Wright 7).
Halftime -- Lamar State 34, Navarro 32.