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  • Greg Wille

HOUSE OF HORRORS: Latest TC trip to McLennan doesn't go well; No. 17 Highlanders pop Leopards 100-62

RIVALRY ACTION: Temple College sophomore forward Aleu Aleu (35) takes a 3-point shot over McLennan sophomore defender Rayquan Brown during the second half of the visiting Leopards' 100-62 loss to the 17th-ranked Highlanders on Monday night at The Highlands in Waco. Aleu made three 3s and was 8-of-9 on free throws as the Texas-San Antonio signee scored 21 points to pace TC (4-2, 1-2 Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference). The Leopards will host Grayson at 7 p.m. Wednesday at TC Gym. Brown was one of two MCC players with 18 points as the Highlanders (10-0) improved to 4-0 in the NTJCAC. (Photo by Greg Wille,


WACO – Clifton Ellis played point guard for Temple College during the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons. Asked how he and the Leopards fared in their two road games against rival McLennan Community College, Ellis simply stated, “It did not go well."

Twenty-four years after his last trip to Waco to play the Highlanders, Ellis returned Monday night as TC's first-year head coach. He might have thought he was experiencing flashbacks, because once again a visit to MCC and The Highlands did not go well – at all – for the Leopards.

No. 17-ranked McLennan repeatedly used swarming defense to create opportunities on offense, and the unbeaten, unrelenting Highlanders also controlled the rebounding game and got 13-plus points from five players as they rolled to a thorough 100-62 win over turnover-plagued, cold-shooting Temple.

“It's a difficult game when we don't rebound or defend or make shots,” Ellis said afterward. “As a coach I've got to make some adjustments. This was an eye-opener for our guys and for me as well.”

Because of the prolonged winter storm that froze Texas for a full week, both the Leopards and the Highlanders were playing for the first time since Feb. 10, when they recorded Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference victories against Southwestern Christian and Weatherford, respectively.

Following the extended layoff, it was McLennan (10-0 overall, 4-0 NTJCAC) that played with significantly better energy and sharpness than Temple (4-2, 1-2), something that clearly bothered Ellis.

“First game back after being off for 10 days, we didn't play with the energy that they played with. We weren't the more aggressive team. They put us on our heels the whole game,” said Ellis, whose squad trailed 48-30 at halftime after making only seven field goals in the opening 20 minutes. “I'm probably most disappointed in our rebounding. That's something we try to emphasize, but we were not rebounding with urgency and we didn't do a good job of getting back on defense. On offense we've got to move the ball better, and we weren't scoring around the rim. That makes the game difficult.”

Sophomore 6-foot-8 forward and Texas-San Antonio signee Aleu Aleu made three 3-point shots and was 8-of-9 on free throws while scoring 21 points for Temple, which didn't have any other double-figure scorers. Sherrod Whitley made three 3-pointers for his nine points, and fellow freshman guard Brandon Monroe hit two 3s and scored eight points off the bench.

The Leopards' other three starters – sophomore point guard Tyler Watkins, sophomore guard Khouri Perkins and 6-10 sophomore forward Mawien Mawien – combined for only 11 points as Temple finished with 19 points fewer than its previous season low.

Rayquan Brown and Diego Gonzalez spearheaded McLennan's balanced scoring attack with 18 points apiece, Harker Heights graduate Dillon Gooding and Chris Pryor produced 15 points each and Maurice Harvey contributed 13. Those five players outscored the Leopards 79-62, along with helping the athletic, up-tempo Highlanders collect 17 turnovers and pressure Temple into a slew of difficult shots.

“That's one thing we try to hang our hat on, is defense, and our guys are getting better. They're working hard and trying to buy into what we're trying to do,” said 19th-season McLennan coach Kevin Gill, who coached against Ellis for the first time after competing against longtime Leopards coach Kirby Johnson 36 times in the previous 18 seasons dating to 2002-03. “I was really proud of them, because we don't just have one guy that's going to lead us to victory. We've got to do it as a collective group, and they did a good job tonight.

“Through the pandemic and then last week with the weather, it's just good to get a chance to play," he added. "We were really on tonight as far as executing and our defense turning into offense. Coach Ellis does a good job over there and Temple has a good team. They're a young team and they're going to get better. Sometimes it just happens like that. It's happened to me before. You've just got to keep going. I'm just glad we were at home.”

With weather-related postponements drastically altering the NTJCAC schedule, Temple's game at McLennan began a stretch of nine conference games in 22 days for the Leopards, who will host Grayson at 7 p.m. Wednesday at TC Gym before playing at Weatherford on Saturday. Temple's rematch with McLennan is at home on Monday, March 15.

“That's a lot of games,” Ellis said. “You only get so many conference games, and we kind of wasted one today. We can't let this one loss turn into four in a row.”

Temple got off to a positive start as two free throws by Watkins and Mawien's inside basket on a goaltending call gave the Leopards a 4-1 lead with one minute gone. However, McLennan then quickly ripped off an 8-0 run – with baskets by Harvey, Brown, Pryor and Gonzalez – that created a 9-4 Highlanders advantage and was a sign of things to come.

Even with Aleu making a pair of 3-pointers and passing to freshman forward Maison Adeleye for an inside bucket, the scoring of Harvey and Gonzalez – an aggressive freshman point guard from Puerto Rico – helped propel MCC to a 26-12 lead with 8:43 remaining in the first half.

Aleu made three free throws after getting fouled on a long-range shot and Watkins sank a left-wing 3 to keep Temple within striking distance at 28-18, but Gooding and Brown then sparked a 9-0 Highlanders run for a 37-18 lead 4:22 before halftime. The Leopards didn't make a field goal from the 6:41 mark until Monroe hit a 3 with 26 seconds left before intermission. Monroe buried another 3 10 seconds later following a turnover as Temple trimmed its halftime deficit to 48-30.

“The way MCC defends you, it forces shots that you don't want to shoot,” said Ellis, whose team was 11-for-11 on free throws (Aleu was 7-for-7) in the first half but also committed nine costly turnovers compared to McLennan's three giveaways. “It seemed like every time we hit a 3, then we'd either foul or give up an offensive rebound. On the road in this conference, you can't give away possessions.”

Five straight points by Brown pushed the Highlanders' advantage to 24 at 55-31, but two left-wing 3s by Whitley, Aleu's right-wing 3, Adeleye's basket off a turnover and a right-wing 3 by freshman Elijah Lomas keyed a 14-5 Temple spurt to make it 60-45 with 13:53 remaining as McLennan suddenly was stricken by turnover woes of its own.

Multiple baskets by Aleu and Lomas kept the Leopards in contention at 71-55 at the 10-minute mark, but the Highlanders then swiftly put the game on ice with a rapid-fire scoring flurry. Brown made a skillful bank shot and completed the three-point play, Kirk Smith Jr. threw down a two-handed dunk on a fast break and Brown punctuated the game-sealing run with a powerful one-handed slam, putting MCC back in full control at 78-55 with 7:43 left.


Northern Texas Junior College

Athletic Conference

No. 17 McLennan 100,

Temple College 62

Temple (4-2, 1-2 NTJCAC) – Aleu Aleu 21, Sherrod Whitley 9, Brandon Monroe 8, Elijah Lomas 7, Tyler Watkins 7, Maison Adeleye 4, Mawien Mawien 2, Khouri Perkins 2, Davion Sargent-Young 2.

McLennan (10-0, 4-0 NTJCAC) – Rayquan Brown 18, Diego Gonzalez 18, Dillon Gooding 15, Chris Pryor 15, Maurice Harvey 13, Nehemiah Nuckolls 6, Kirk Smith Jr. 5, Asare Otchere 4, Ja'Kyrie Robinson 3, Sudi McElroy 2, Amani Harris 1.

3-point goals – Temple 10 (Aleu 3, Whitley 3, Monroe 2, Lomas 1, Watkins 1); McLennan 5 (Gooding 2, Brown 1, Harvey 1, Robinson 1).

Free throws – Temple 14-18; McLennan 19-28.

Halftime score – McLennan 48, Temple 30.

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