Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 | 11:15 p.m.
When the referee tossed the jump ball Thursday night to start the second overtime between Bishop Gorman and visiting Centennial, the state’s unquestioned top high school basketball teams, you could have easily argued the game would never end.
On this night, they were that evenly matched. One team would pull ahead, then the other would tie the game. Over and over again.
While defending state champion Gorman prevailed 79-71 in double overtime to remain perfect against Las Vegas area teams since January 2009, the general consensus in the Centennial locker room after the game was still positive.
Centennial players and coaches feel they took a step in the right direction by keeping Gorman on the ropes. The teams will likely meet again next Friday in the Sunset Regional championship game and possibly in two weeks in the state championship game, making tonight’s regular season finale a clear confidence builder.
It was the second time this season Centennial had a fourth-quarter lead against Gorman before losing. Ironically, the final two weeks ago was also 79-71 in Gorman’s favor .
Gorman walked away with confidence, too. And rightfully so.
Despite trailing by four points in regulation with less than a minute to play, the Gaels forced overtime when they could have easily accepted the defeat. In fact, students from the Centennial cheering section were lining the sidelines ready to the storm the court in celebration. On multiple occasions.
“(Rallying to win) really boosts our confidence. We didn’t play as well as we can, but we stepped up when we needed to,” said Gorman’s 7-foot center Stephen Zimmerman, who was a matchup problem all night for the smaller Centennial players, finishing with 17 points, 17 rebounds, seven blocks and seven assists
Gorman finally pulled away in the second overtime, limiting Centennial to just two points in the four minute session and making 6-of-8 foul shots to seal the victory. Senior Trey Kennedy scored eight of his 16 points the overtime sessions, including consecutive baskets to open the first overtime to give Gorman a four-point lead.
But instead of folding, Centennial scored the next six points to retake the lead. Centennial had a chance to win the game with 14 seconds remaining in the first overtime, but Malcolm Allen only made 1-of-2 free throws to even the game at 69-all and Gorman’s Noah Robotham missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into a second overtime.
“I told the kids there is no morale victory in this,” Centennial coach Todd Allen said. “But, you know what? We got better today. They aren’t happy. They aren’t happy at all. But God, they don’t give up.”
The game followed a similar script.
Robotham scored the final seven points of the first quarter to give Gorman a 17-10 advantage after the initial eight minutes. Then, Centennial chipped away at the deficit in the second quarter, riding twins Marcus and Malcolm Allen to lead 29-28 at halftime.
The Allens, who will play at Stanford next year, are the top two scorers in Southern Nevada. They didn’t disappoint against Gorman with Marcus scoring 30 and Malcolm finished with 20 — several buckets were highlight-reel worthy, including a put-back dunk from Malcolm Allen in the second half that brought several in the gym (from both cheering sections) to their feet.
“We didn’t play the perfect game. Obviously we made a lot of mistakes,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “They out-rebounded us, which with a team of our size, we shouldn’t get out-rebounded. But to overcome all that and still get a victory, it is a good win for us. I told the guys in the locker room to just be happy with the win.”
Gorman, which had already played a handful of overtime games this season during its non-league schedule, used that crunch-time experience to its advantage. Zimmerman scored the final four points of regulation, including a rebound and short-jumper put back with four seconds remaining to force overtime.
“Down the stretch, at this time, you never know when you‘ll have a close game,” said Robotham, who scored a team-high 19 points for Gorman. ”It was a good win in front of our home crowd. They played a good game, and so did we.”
Rashad Muhammad added with 15 points for Gorman, including connecting on a trio of 3-pointers in the second half.
Centennial gave Gorman everything it had, but they couldn’t deliver the knockout punch on this night. But, as they quickly regrouped in the locker room following the game, they’ll likely get another shot at the title.
And, after coming close twice against Gorman, they are well aware of the obvious: Beating the state champions won’t be easy.
“It is definitely motivation,” Marcus Allen said. “It is always tough to lose, but we’ll get back to work tomorrow at lab and keep working.”