DIFFICULT STRETCH: Virden's hot shooting helps Collin send depleted TC men to 7th NTJCAC loss in row
TOO HOT TO HANDLE: Collin sophomore guard Orion Virden (4) takes a 3-point shot over Temple College freshman defender Brandon Monroe during the host Leopards' 93-84 loss to the Cougars on Thursday night at TC Gym. Virden made five 3-pointers in the first half and six overall en route to a game-high 24 points, and Collin (11-3) compiled 13 3-pointers as it moved to 6-1 in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference. Monroe and sophomore guard Khouri Perkins scored 19 points apiece to pace Temple (5-8, 1-8 NTJCAC), which absorbed its seventh straight conference defeat. Five Leopards players missed Temple's Wednesday and Thursday games because of quarantine protocols related to COVID-19, first-year head coach Clifton Ellis said. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Jim Sigona has been the head men's basketball coach at Collin College for 33 seasons. Kirby Johnson retired last year after 33 seasons as Temple College's head coach.
Johnson watched from the stands Thursday night at TC Gym as his old rival Sigona coached against one of Johnson's former players, first-year head coach Clifton Ellis of the depleted Leopards.
For a while, Collin sharpshooter Orion Virden looked like he might explode for 33 or more points off the bench against the zone defense of a struggling, short-handed Temple team that was without five players – including the four tallest Leopards – because of COVID-19 quarantine protocols.
Three-point marksman Virden didn't quite get to 33 points, finishing with a game-best 24. But 33 of the Cougars' 50 first-half points came from 11 3-pointers as they raced out to a 15-point lead before Collin withstood some feisty second-half runs by the undermanned Leopards for a 93-84 victory, extending Temple's conference losing streak to seven games with its fourth league defeat in six days.
“He's a really, really good shooter. He's normally a starter, and last year he was one of our best 3-point shooters,” Sigona said about Virden, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. “Sometimes we start him and sometimes we bring him off the bench, but I actually needed him in this game because I knew Temple was down and I knew they were going to be in zone the whole game. I was like, 'Man, we've got to have somebody make some shots.'”
TC played its second second straight game without two of its top three scorers in 6-8 sophomore forward Aleu Aleu (17.3 points, 8.9 rebounds per game) and 6-5 freshman wing Elijah Lomas (13.0 ppg) and also didn't have the services of 6-10 sophomore forward Mawien Mawien and two tall freshman forwards: 6-9 Tabarius Jolly and 6-8 Tawab Kokumo.
Sophomore guard Khouri Perkins and freshman guard Brandon Monroe paced Temple with 19 points apiece, freshman guard Sherrod Whitley scored 13 points and freshman forward Maison Adeleye and freshman guard Davion Sargent-Young added 10 each.
The Leopards' eight-man group produced a scrappy, competitive effort against deeper, beefier Collin (11-3 overall, 6-1 conference), but that wasn't nearly enough to keep TC (5-8) from sliding to 1-8 in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference. The Leopards haven't won a conference game since they beat Southwestern Christian 93-75 at home Feb. 10, when Aleu, Lomas and Mawien scored a combined 38 points.
“Our guys understood the situation. We've only got eight guys, and it just so happens that the guys who are out are our tallest guys,” said Ellis, whose Leopards had a quick turnaround after they lost 90-79 to Southwestern Christian on Wednesday evening in Terrell. “But as we talked about after the game, I feel like they're bringing a new kind of attitude, a new kind of spirit to our team with the way they've handled this whole situation. They showed a lot of competitive spirit.
“What was different about (the last two games) as opposed to the other conference games where we had double-digit leads in the second half and I felt like we kind of self-destructed, these last two nights the other teams just made some shots. It wasn't so much about anything that we were doing wrong. The other team was just making shots. So in this case, we just take it and move on.
"I told the guys that I feel like we got better the last couple days. I really did," Ellis added. "They recognized some things, and some of the guys who hadn't played as much played more and they showed me that they're deserving of some time on the court. So as long as we can all learn from this and carry it forward over these next couple of weeks, everybody's in the conference tournament (this season instead of only the top four teams advancing to the NJCAA Region V Tournament), so we'll see what happens.”
TAKING IT TO THE HOOP: Temple College freshman guard Sherrod Whitley (30) gets past Collin defender Kadar Waller for a layup during the second half of the Leopards' 93-84 loss to the Cougars on Thursday night at TC Gym. Whitley made two 3-point baskets and scored 13 points as Temple had five double-figure scorers but couldn't prevent its seventh straight conference defeat, including four in the last six days. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple will aim to stop its losing skid when it plays Hill (10-6, 4-5 NTJCAC) at 4 p.m. Saturday in Hillsboro. Ellis said quarantines will prevent the five players who have missed the last two games from playing at Hill. He said that they're likely to return for next Monday's home game with rival McLennan.
Collin's nine-point win followed the Temple women's 96-87 victory over Collin. The Lady Leopards (11-3 overall) of first-year head coach Amber Taylor are 4-1 in their last five NTJCAC games. At 7-3 in the league, TC is in third place – a half-game behind 7-2 Ranger – but only one game behind first-place Hill (8-2) entering their clash at 2 p.m. Saturday in Hillsboro.
Virden made five 3-pointers in the first half and six overall for a 24-point night, and his teammates gave him plenty of help as the Cougars made 13 3-pointers overall. Antoine Smith Jr. and Trazarien White scored 15 points apiece, Alex Stoimenov – who hit three 3-pointers before halftime – had 11 and Kadar Waller contributed 10.
Collin leads the NTJCAC in terms of winning percentage (.857), although the Cougars are a half-game behind McLennan (8-2 conference) in the standings and just a half-game ahead of 6-2 teams Grayson and Ranger. Sigona said that because of broken water lines at Collin that caused the closure of its Plano campus, the game at Temple was the Cougars' sixth straight conference game on the road.
“So out of the last seven now, we've got six at home. I don't know, though. We keep winning on the road. I might just want to keep going on the road,” joked Sigona, whose team's only conference loss was 77-72 at McLennan on March 4.
Collin's longtime leader and native New Yorker was serious, though, when he spoke about the pandemic-related problems that Collin experienced last fall.
“First semester, it kind of went through us,” Sigona said about COVID-19. “It's been challenging. I just appreciate our guys, because it's very, very hard for them. You've got to try to stay isolated, you've got to try to stay away from others. It's been tough.”
Collin jumped out to 7-2 lead with 3 minutes gone, but Temple responded with an 8-0 run – including 3-pointers by freshman point guard Tyler Watkins and Whitley – to grab its first lead at 10-7 with 14:55 remaining. CJ Washington's 3 tied it before steals led to back-to-back layups by Watkins and Perkins for a 14-10 Leopards advantage.
Kristopher O'Neal's difficult fast-break layin gave Temple an 18-17 lead, but that proved to be the Leopards' final advantage of the evening.
Not surprisingly, it was Virden who shifted the momentum to Collin's side. He nailed an open 3-pointer from the left wing for a 20-18 Cougars edge. After Monroe's cutting layup made it 20-20, Stoimenov – a 6-5 freshman from Bulgaria – got the roll on a left-corner 3 to put Collin ahead to stay at 23-20 with 9:16 remaining until halftime.
Right after that was when the Leopards undoubtedly began to miss having the size of their five players who were out of action for the second straight night. White grabbed an offensive rebound and scored the putback, then Davien Minor did the same thing and added a free throw for a three-point play as the Cougars' lead grew to 28-22 with 7:46 left.
The next few minutes provided a dueling highlight reel of TC's Perkins and Collin's Virden, who made the next six baskets in alternating order. Perkins scored on a left-handed layup, a right-corner 3 and a putback; Virden countered with two 3-pointers from the right wing and a 3 from the top left.
Temple's deficit was only 37-33 at the 4:33 mark after Jonathan Joseph's shot in lane rolled in and Perkins made a difficult fast-break finish. However, the game then got away from the Leopards in a hurry as the Cougars carved up TC's zone defense by closing the first half with a decisive 13-2 run.
Waller sank a left-wing 3, White scored four points in a row and Stoimenov drilled a 3 from up top. Sargent-Young made two free throws to stop Temple's 3-minute scoring drought, but the pure-shooting Virden hit another 3-pointer – his fifth of the half – from the top left to extend Collin's advantage to 50-35 at halftime.
“When you play zone, you're going to give up something, and a lot of times it's perimeter shots. And in this case, they made them and that gave them some separation,” Ellis said. “Obviously we were worried about them throwing the ball inside and really taking advantage of our lack of size, but they made some (outside) shots and that changed the game around.”
Scoring by Adeleye and Whitley kept Temple within striking distance in the second half's opening 5 minutes, but White scored off Smith's pass before Virden finally showed he could make something other than a 3-pointer. He used a pump-fake to get open and hit a 15-foot jumper, then curled around a screen to get free for a 13-footer and a 65-44 lead with 14:08 left.
On the verge of getting blown out, the Leopards quickly clawed their way back into contention. O'Neal scored inside, then Monroe made back-to-back 3-pointers from the left wing as turnovers began to hurt the Cougars. When Sargent-Young's hard drive led to a banker plus a free throw for a three-point play, TC sliced its deficit to 66-55 with 11:53 remaining and still had plenty of time to pull off a much-needed comeback.
However, the next 6 minutes saw Collin push its lead back to 19 at 80-61 with 6:20 left, led by Smith's 3-pointer and Waller's three-point play.
The Leopards made one final push, using baskets by Perkins and Sargent-Young and then 3-pointers by Whitley and Sargent-Young to make it 84-71 at the 4-minute mark.
But when Virden penetrated from the left wing for a basket and Waller added an inside bucket to make it 88-73 with 2:24 left, the Cougars had secured another road victory.
Although Temple's frustrating NTJCAC losing streak reached seven games, Ellis saw things from his Leopards against Collin that made him far more optimistic than discouraged.
“I liked the entire team overall, I really did,” he said. “Each guy kind of had his moment, doing different things. I really liked the way we were moving the ball and running the court, competing and scrapping.
“I told them after the game, 'I feel like you guys are bringing a new attitude to our team. I feel like we've kind of been down. We couldn't play in the first semester and had to wait until the second semester, then we had a COVID outbreak, then we had the (winter) weather (postponements), all of this and that. I feel like everybody's kind of putting that behind us and we get to play basketball. Let's just go play and have fun.' You've got to have a little fun. The idea is we just want to get better and better, and hopefully we get everybody back and we can figure some things out with our team.”
And despite the adversity that he and TC have experienced during the last 12 months because of the pandemic, Ellis remains upbeat and optimistic about the Leopards' direction.
“To be honest, I'm just happy to be here at Temple College. I love this college. I played here and I'm happy to be back,” he said. “I'm happy to be working with these guys. Some of these guys are like me. They're just looking for an opportunity to play college basketball and they got it, and I'm just excited to be a part of that. I wish it was more of a normal circumstance (this year), but I love being here and I think our guys love being here and getting a chance to play.”
MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Northern Texas Junior College
Collin 93, Temple College 84
Collin (11-3, 6-1 NTJCAC) – Orion Virden 24, Antoine Smith Jr. 15, Trazarien White 15, Alex Stoimenov 11, Kadar Waller 10, CJ Washington 9, Davien Minor 7, John Achebe 2.
Temple (5-8, 1-8 NTJCAC) – Brandon Monroe 19, Khouri Perkins 19, Sherrod Whitley 13, Maison Adeleye 10, Davion Sargent-Young 10, Tyler Watkins 7, Kristopher O'Neal 4, Jonathan Joseph 2.
3-point goals – Collin 13 (Virden 6, Stoimenov 3, Smith 2, Waller 1, Washington 1); Temple 8 (Monroe 3, Whitley 2, Perkins 1, Sargent-Young 1, Watkins 1).
Free throws – Collin 8-11, Temple 8-9.
Halftime score – Collin 50, Temple 35.