Leopards

TC’s Kortrijk Miles (5) goes to the basket against Navarro’s Brian Washington during the Leopards’ 98-90 victory Tuesday night.

Temple College sophomore guards R.J. Mason and Kedrian Johnson experienced the frustration of foul trouble in Tuesday evening’s early-season showdown with No. 15-ranked Navarro.

Mason, the Leopards’ point guard, went to the bench after being whistled for his second foul only 1:26 into the game and didn’t return to the floor until midway through the first half. Johnson, TC’s West Virginia-committed shooting guard, was assessed his fourth foul 4:19 into the second half and had to take a seat next to coach Kirby Johnson until just 4:49 remained.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I got to about an 8. That’s how mad I was,” Kedrian Johnson said. “But I understand why he took me out.”

Fortunately for Temple, Mason and Johnson played very well when they managed to stay on the court.

Johnson scored 21 of his 25 points in the first half, and Mason scored 21 of his game-high 28 after halftime as the Leopards made enough key plays in crunch time to earn an intense 98-90 victory over the Bulldogs at TC Gym.

In his 33rd and final season as Temple’s head coach, Kirby Johnson appreciates the impact his two seasoned guards made in the Leopards’ first big challenge this season.

“This was a hard game for us. It’s a quality opponent, and Kedrian and R.J. are our only returners. Everybody else is new,” he said. “The difference was those guys being able to get steals. We’re a better defensive team than people think.”

Johnson and Mason each made three of Temple’s nine 3-pointers, and they were almost perfect from the free throw line. Mason was 9-of-9 on foul shots, including two with 1:27 remaining to push TC’s lead to four. The Leopards (2-0) still led by four with 13.2 seconds left when Johnson nailed two free throws to finish 8-of-9.

“It came down to free throws and less turnovers for us,” said Mason, whose 3-pointer 5 minutes into the second half pushed Temple over the 100,000-point milestone in Kirby Johnson’s career. “We had guys make big shots down the stretch.”

Mason continued his stellar return from a torn Achilles tendon last January that cost him the second half of his freshman season.

“It’s good that he’s back. It takes a big load off of me after what I had to carry the last half of last season,” Kedrian Johnson said of Mason. “He’s a great player.”

Temple received a vital contribution from sophomore transfer wing Kortrijk Miles, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, including four in the final 2:18. Leopards 6-foot-11 freshman forward Carlton Linguard scored 10 points, Josiyah Thorn had nine and Aleu Aleu eight.

Jesse Zarzuela led Navarro (0-3) with 19 points and fellow guard Tyrese Ross had 17. Dravon Clayborn scored 16 points and Sherman Robinson added 10 for first-year coach Grant McMillan’s athletic Bulldogs, who owned a seven-point lead early in the second half but were doomed during the closing stretch by key turnovers and Temple’s superior execution.

The Leopards avenged Navarro’s 115-110, triple-overtime win at Temple a year ago, which followed TC’s win over Navarro in Corsicana.

“It’s our practices,” Kedrian Johnson said. “We compete every day and translate that over to the games.”

With his future coach, West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, watching from the stands, Johnson put on a show with 21 points during a back-and-forth, foul-choked first half that produced a 54-54 tie.

After Navarro surged ahead 63-56, Mason made three 3s during a 2½-minute span to help ease the pain of Johnson leaving with four fouls at the 15:41 mark. Temple took the lead for good at 78-77 with 7:06 left on Miles’ 17-foot jumper, followed by Mason’s spinning layup and his contested left-handed layin off a midcourt steal.

Navarro trimmed Temple’s lead to two on three occasions in the final 3 minutes, but Miles and Thorn scored key inside baskets and free throws sealed the Leopards’ well-earned win.