By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
Navarro coach Johnny Estelle kept his team in the locker room for half an hour after Wednesday's 65-58 loss to Tyler, playing coach and team pyschologist all at the same time.
His team has gone through a rough five days, suffering two straight losses with the Region XIV regular season title on the line. That combined with the post-game incident in which the Bulldogs feel they were disrespected in the their own locker by being doused with pepper spray, and it would it be easy to say Navarro suffered a Kilgore hangover four days later against Tyler.
Navarro did suffer a long scoring drought -- the Bulldogs scored 12 points over a 18-minute stretch -- but Bulldogs coach Johnny Estelle wasn't ready to pin Wednesday's loss on what happened in Kilgore with an incident with campus police.
"You never know," Estelle said. "Kids are so inverted today. You don't know. You could take that road and say 'yes' but I don't know. Our kids tried to play."
Now, for the first time all season, Navarro (22-7, 14-4) finds two other teams in control of its regular-season title destiny. The Bulldogs need a win Saturday at Trinity Valley coupled with a Tyler win over Kilgore to win the regular season. Kilgore (23-4, 14-4) controls its own destiny now because of the tiebreaker having the best record in the East Zone.
Navarro did make a spirited comeback against Tyler, rallying from 13 points down to make it a 3-point game three times in the final two minutes. But the Bulldogs missed their only 3-pointer to tie the game during the final stretch -- Princeton Onwas was just long on his outside shot -- and they had to watch as Tyler basically won the game at the line, shooting 41 of their 54 free throws in the second half.
It was worse because for the second time this month. Navarro watched helplessly as Tyler point guard Anthony Odunsi beat them at the free throw line. Odunsi made 14 of 19 free throws in the second half, scoring six of Tyler's final eight points with Navarro trying to claw back into the game.
"I don't know how you can play a game and shoot 54 free throws," Estelle said. "That's just crazy."
Navarro bolted out to a 11-4 lead with 13:18 to go in the first half as Harrison Hawkins and Toney Foster made 3-pointers to get the Bulldogs off to a great start.
The Bulldogs went cold for the next 18 minutes, scoring only 12 points as Tyler built a 38-23 lead. Navarro shot 25 percent in the first half, then started the first five minutes of the second half with a cold stretch.
"We just didn't make enough shots," Estelle said.
Navarro slowly crept back in the game, getting the lead down to 41-34 with a 7-0 run. Foster scored 5 of his team-high 19 points during that stretch.
The Bulldogs then fell behind 48-38 and started another climb back. They closed the gap to four points three times, then pulled within 59-56 with 1:24 left on two free throws by Princeton Onwas.
But they couldn't keep Odunsi off the line. To his credit, he stayed aggressive, and with the officials calling a tight game, Odunsi made it to the line on what at one point appeared to be four consecutive touch fouls.
Meanwhile, only Foster stayed aggressive and made it to the line for Navarro -- he was 8 for 13 from the line. The Bulldogs shot only 23 free throws, as they went through lapses where they settled for jump shots against Tyler's zone defense.
All of the free throws Tyler shot were agonizing for Navarro fans. And it's been tough to see East rivals Tyler and Kilgore combine to shoot 105 free throws on Navarro's home court.
But Estelle was quick to credit Tyler for playing well and forcing Navarro to play catch up most of the game.
"You can't dig yourself that kind of hole," Estelle said. "They're a good team. They played well. They handled the situation well."
Tyler 65, Navarro 58
Tyler (65) -- Trevor Berkeley 3, John Alexander 1, Chaz Samuel 16, DeAndre Harris 14, Sharife Sargeant 3, Ta'Jon Welcome 9, Winslo Barry 2, Dale Jones 11, Daniel Edozie 6.
Navarro (58) -- Harrison Hawkins 15, Princeton Onwas 6, David Woodard 2, Toney Foster 19, Jamar Goodwin 8, Terrance Syon 2, Justin Phillipe 4, Jaleel Cousins 2.
Halftime -- Tyler 32, Navarro 20.