Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer sign off on the year with one last basketball conversation. They discuss fallout from the Arbor View vs. Centennial game last week and get to this week's picks.
The Clark High School basketball team didn’t back down.
Even when the Chargers appeared to be overmatched Thursday against No. 3 ranked Mater Dei of Southern California in the Tarkanian Classic at Bishop Gorman, the Las Vegas power didn’t quit fighting.
While a 72-58 loss will be recorded as a double-digit defeat, it will serve as much more for a team expected to contend for the Nevada state championship in a few months.
The Chargers proved they could play with anyone. They showed they have a good basketball team.
And if it weren’t for Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson, a big and physical 6-foot-6 power forward who is considered the nation’s No. 1 recruit for the class of 2014 and is signed with Arizona, the buzz at Gorman might have been how Clark knocked off the defending Tarkanian Classic champions.
Johnson poured in a game-high 32 points on 10-of-15 shooting, beating Clark from the inside and out most of the night. Johnson connected on 4 of 7 of his 3-pointers and was equally effective in driving the ball to the lane, constantly drawing contact to earn free throws and connecting on 10 of 12 attempts from the line.
While Johnson dominated the Chargers’ players, he didn’t intimidate them.
With Clark trailing by 12 points and about five minutes to play, Johnson drove to the rim for what appeared to be an uncontested layup. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Clark sophomore Ty’Rek Wells raced back on defense and blocked Johnson’s shot into the backboard. A few seconds later, Wells scored his only points on a dunk.
Yes, Clark gave Mater Dei everything it could handle.
“We were just being aggressive,” Clark coach Chad Beeten said. “We watched them on tape and watched them last night, and I just thought we could be more aggressive than them and out-tough them. For the most part we did. (Mater Dei) responded. Those guys are a good team. They are ranked No. 3 in the country for a reason.
“But I think we went toe-to-toe with them because of our toughness. If we continue to do that, we’ll be as good as anybody out there.”
The game included eight ties and 11 lead changes, including Clark taking a 42-39 advantage with about 10 minutes remaining on a 3-pointer from Carter Olsen. On consecutive possessions a few plays earlier, Clark stayed close thanks to a Colby Jackson 3-pointer and a 3-point play from Diontae Jones.
But Mater Dei quickly went on a 15-0 run and took the lead for good, piecing together its lone significant scoring outburst of the game. The three-minute spurt was the only time Clark didn’t have an answer, and when the dust settled, they trailed 54-42.
“We played hard. I didn’t expect them to blow us out,” Jackson said. “This is a good experience. That’s college players (we hung with), D-I.”
The Tarkanian tournament isn’t your run-of-the-mill holiday event.
Most of the teams in Clark’s Platinum Division are nationally ranked or respected regional powers, blue-chip college recruits highlight some rosters, and a few games will be televised today by the CBS Sports Network. More important for Clark, college coaches are also in the stands.
An assistant coach from schools as big as Oklahoma or Georgetown, or smaller colleges such as Radford, were courtside Thursday.
They surely noticed the player who was arguably the second-best player on the court behind Johnson. Jackson controlled the game from his point guard position, scoring 21 points and making 5 of 7 of his 3-pointers. He had four assists and three steals.
In the first half, when the game was going back and forth, you could easily argue Jackson and his teammates got the best of Mater Dei, forcing them into turnovers and other mental mistakes. Twice, Mater Dei needed to call a timeout in the first half to regroup.
And while there are no moral victories, Clark isn’t leaving overly disappointed. They won something more valuable than what’s seen in the standings — their talent was validated; their confidence is high.
“The kids understand they can compete toe-to-toe with anyone. And we did,” Beeten said. “Unfortunately, they made a few more plays in the last eight or nine minutes of the game than we did. They are good. Let’s be honest, that’s a really good team. But we went toe-to-toe with them. That’s all I can ask of the kids.”