Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Home News
Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009 | 2:46 a.m.
Bishop Gorman's John Loyd approached the free throw line of the Orleans Arena Friday night with 1.8 seconds remaining and the game tied.
Loyd, who struggled all night to sink his shots, had two chances to clinch a state title and cap a 10-point fourth quarter comeback in a scenario most kids can only dream of in their driveways.
The crowd rose. Bishop Gorman fans held their breath as the Palo Verde faithful roared to a deafening din.
Dribble. Dribble. Dribble. Loyd paused for a moment to look at his image on the giant video board behind the basket.
Then with one shot the junior guard lifted the Gaels past their archrival 56-55 for the 4A state championship. Loyd intentionally missed the second free throw to prevent the Panthers from launching a final shot.
"I just want to back-flip right now," Loyd said while celebrating with a few hundred Bishop Gorman students who stormed the court. "That's all I can say. I knew we could do it. I knew we could come back."
Loyd's tie-breaking free throw not only won the state title, but it gave the Gaels their first lead of the night.
Palo Verde controlled the game from the opening basket as the Panthers stretched a 27-23 half time lead into a 46-39 advantage heading into the final quarter.
The Panther seemed poised to runaway with the championship when they took a 53-43 lead with just 3:40 remaining in the game.
But Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice called a timeout and rallied his squad for the improbable comeback.
"I have to watch the tape to figure out what even happened because things happened so fast," Rice said. "You can have a lifetime of watching games and never see a comeback like that. It was really incredible. Our guys went all out, I'm really proud of them."
Following that timeout, the Gaels switched into a full court press defense, which helped Bishop Gorman cut their deficit to 53-47.
With 2:20 left in the contest, Bishop Gorman senior Czar Robotham nailed a 3-pointer to bring the Gaels within one possession of the lead.
"When Czar hit the 3-pointer, I knew we had it," Loyd said. "I was like, 'Oh yeah, we're in it now, we got this.'"
The Gaels then quickly capitalized on a turnover as Taylor Spencer slashed the deficit to 53-52.
Following a basket by Palo Verde's Bryce Cotton, Kylel Coleman hit a long 3-pointer to tie the game at 55-55 with 1:12 remaining. Coleman finished with a game-high 19 points.
With one of Palo Verde's best ball handlers on the bench after fouling out early in the fourth quarter, the Panthers struggled offensively late in the game – coughing up six turnovers.
Yet despite letting a double digit lead slip away, the Panthers had a chance at what they thought was the last shot of the game.
D.J. Stennis drove hard to the hoop with five seconds remaining but Alex Turner blocked his shot. Loyd recovered the loose ball before drawing the foul that sent him to the free throw line for the game winning shots.
"I wanted the last shot," Riley said. "It appeared we had the last shot. Alex Turner made a great block – a great defensive play. If Alex Turner doesn't make that play then we probably score and we are the ones celebrating. I told my guys defense would get it done and (Bishop Gorman) got it done with that block."
As the Gaels celebrated their epic comeback, one Palo Verde senior sat alone on the bench trying to make sense of such a huge disappointment – Liloa Nobriga.
Nobriga, who led the Panthers with 16 points and seven rebounds, suffered a one-point loss in the 4A football state championship to Reno's McQueen High School in December.
"It was a tough loss, but like I said after the (state title) football game, there are only two teams here and we were one of them," Nobriga said. "We wanted to win, but we had a great year. So I'm proud of that. We know we are champions."
Bishop Gorman has now won five boys' basketball championships at the 4A classification – something Rice did not think possible after the Gaels lost two of their first three games of the season.
"We were kind of down and out at the beginning of the year, but the guys stuck together," Rice said. "It wasn't easy. We didn't agree on everything, but we came together and put together quite a run."
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Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].