PORT ARTHUR — PORT ARTHUR – Lamar State College-Port Arthur’s Tre Bennett just didn’t feel right all night … but then he got an open look at the basket with the game on the line.
Bennett, the NJCAA Region XIV leading scorer, couldn’t buy a basket through most of Wednesday’s game against Navarro College. With nine seconds left on the clock, though, the Houston sophomore put the Seahawks past Navarro with a dead-on 3-pointer for an 86-83 decision at the Carl Parker Center.
“When you’re off in a game, you have to have a short memory,” said Bennett, who finished with 22 points and seven assists. “I was off the whole game but my coaches and my teammates constantly talk to me and keep giving me confidence.”
Bennett finished the game 4 of 15 from the field and hit just two 3-pointers out of seven attempts. By comparison, he was 12 of 16 from the free throw line.
“When you’re having a tough time, it’s important to get to the line,” he said. “You have to do something to score points and kind of get your rhythm back.”
Perhaps just as critical to Wednesday night’s win was an assist from Bennett to sophomore teammate Ivan Jelencic to pull the Seahawks to within two at 83-81 with 1:29 left.
With a bunch of Navarro big bodies swallowing up any opportunity for Bennett to score, he looked to his right and found Jelencic double-teamed under the basket. A precision pass split the defenders and Jelencic went up for the huge basket.
“I was proud of our guys, they hung tough and never gave up,” Lamar State-Port Arthur Coach Lance Madison said. “We knew the team with the most discipline and the team that sticks together would win this game. We kept our composure down the stretch and we were able to close it out.”
A pair of free throws by freshman JoJo Mooring, who scored 15 in the game, set up the 14th tie of the game at 83-83 with 1:01 left to play. On the next trip down the floor, Mooring picked up a steal to give Bennett his opportunity to pull up for the winner.
With nine seconds remaining, Navarro scrambled the floor and attempted two 3-pointers but missed both to end the game.
“We’re playing some good basketball right now,” Madison said. “We’re not cocky but we are confident. Our guys are pretty focused right now.”
That focus will be squarely placed on Kilgore College, the No. 2 team in the nation, as the Hawks travel to play the Rangers on Saturday at 4 p.m.
“We consider Saturday to be a business trip,” Madison said. “We’ve got to handle our business and play with toughness and togetherness.”
It was that mentality that helped carry the Seahawks through the first half of Wednesday’s game against Navarro. Sophomore D.J. Blanks did his part, primarily on defense, as he picked off four steals while Cirkook “Shaq” Riak played a key role off the bench.
“We said D.J. would need to have a good game and he closed out the first half with a few steals,” Madison said. “The bench came in and gave us life. Shaq is getting better every day. He has more of a sense of urgency and the guys are having more confidence in him.”
Riak finished with six points and four rebounds, while Blanks added nine points. Sophomore center Anthony Allen had 10 points and four rebounds while Jelencic knocked down eight points.
Navarro’s Toney Foster and Jamar Goodwin each scored 23 to lead the Bulldogs.