By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
Navarro won more conference games than any team in Region XIX this season. And the Runnin' Bulldogs aren't going to Hutch.
Navarro lost for the first time in the Region XIV Championship Game during the Johnny Estelle era, falling to No. 5 seed Lee College 92-77 on Saturday night at UT Tyler's Herrington Patriot Center.
The second-seeded Bulldogs were regular season co-champions in Region XIV and they won twice in the tournament before losing to the Runnin' Rebels. Navarro's 17 wins against conference opponents gives them one more than Kilgore and Lee, but both of those are the teams that are headed to the NJCAA Natioanl Tournament.
Navarro at 25-7 still could be alive for one of the at-large bids handed out for the first time for the national tournament, but with two teams already going to Hutch from Region XIV, and several upsets in other regional tournaments, the Bulldogs are a long shot to make it.
Navarro had two chances to win and get in -- once in the regular season against Kilgore (the Dawgs lost by 10) and one last opportunity Saturday night against Lee. But the Rebels out-shot, out-rebounded and got to more 50-50 balls than the Bulldogs and led for all but five minutes of the game.
"We couldn't get over the hump," Estelle said. "Lee played great. The first-round game is the key game. They hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer against Blinn and that got them on a roll."
Lee, which didn't get one of the four first-round byes, won 76-73 against Blinn in the first round, then rolled over three of the top teams in the tournament. The Rebels beat No. 4 Jacksonville, 101-96, No. 1 seed Kilgore 88-73 and No. 2 seed Navarro.
The Bulldogs will look back at two things -- a first half they didn't close out and a second half where they couldn't break through and put pressure on a Lee team that hadn't played in the tournament final in years.
Navarro, which led twice early in the game, fell behind by 12 points at 26-14 with 7:57 left in the first half, then made a slow march back. The Bulldogs cut the lead to 31-25 with 1:47 left and had a chance for a fast break to get within four, but a travelling call on David Woodard with Toney Foster breaking free for a dunk halted Navarro's momentum.
Lee outscored Navarro 7-2 after that, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Rebels guard William Knowles as the Bulldogs trailed 38-27 at the half.
Lee kept its lead in double digits for most of the second half, but the Bulldogs did make a late run to cut the lead to 71-65 on free throws by Harrison Hawkins with 4:12 left in the game. Don Thomas hit a clutch 3-pointer for a nine-point lead, but Princeton Onwas scored and David Woodard drew a foul and two free throws with 2:59 left in the game.
Woodard, who played brilliantly in the tournament, missed both free throws and Lee's Trahson Burrell converted a 3-point lead to take a 77-67 lead with 2:45 left. The Bulldogs pulled back within eight points on two free throws, but Lee closed out the win with 15-6 run.
It was a stunning ending for Estelle and the Bulldogs. Navarro was 13-1 in the regional tournament and had won all three championship games under Estelle before Saturday's loss.
Now it's time for the Bulldogs to regroup and get back to Hutch next year.
"Selfishly I want to win every game," Estelle said. "But we're humble at Navarro, we give Lee credit and now it's time to get back to work. The guys will come back hungry and ready to win again."
Region XIV Championship Game
No. 5 Lee 92, No. 2 Navarro 77
Lee (92) -- Chris Blake 12, Deng Deng 6, De'Vante Wilson 3, Isaac Smith 1, Don Thomas 17, Jamal Jones 28, Adam Ward 3, William Knowles 8, Trahson Burrell 14.
Navarro (77) -- Princeton Onwas 18, Terrance Syon 7, Jonathan Benn 4, David Woodard 11, Harrison Hawkins 17, Shannon Lilly 2, Toney Foster 4, Duan Wright 5, Jamar Goodwin 5, Brandon Scott 2, Justin Phillipe 2.
3-pointers -- Lee 11-26 (Thomas 4-6, Jones 2-6, Knowles 2-5, Wilson 1-3, Deng 1-2, Burrell 1-2, Smith 0-2); Navarro 9-25 (Hawkins 3-8, Onwas 2-6, Woodard 1-4, Wright 1-3, Syon 1-3, Goodwin 1-1).
Free throws -- Lee 19-28; Navarro 16-23.
Rebounds -- Lee 49 (Blake 10, Burrell 9, Jones 8); Navarro 41 (Woodard 7, Syon 6, Onwas 5).
Assists -- Lee 14 (Burrell 4, Blake 3, Thomas 3); Navarro 12 (Hawkins 7, Onwas 3).
Personal fouls -- Lee 22, Navarro 23.
Halftime -- Lee 38, Navarro 27.