Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 | 6 p.m.
It's a big week for high school basketball in Las Vegas with several marquee games and compelling storylines. Listen as sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer sort through all of them.
They were supposed to be the Bishop Gorman High basketball team’s new “Big Three.”
After the Gaels graduated a trio of top-100 recruits two seasons ago, 2015 classmates Nick Blair, Chase Jeter and Stephen Zimmerman were expected to emerge as the Nevada power’s new threesome of elite players.
Jeter and Zimmerman have lived up the billing, becoming five-star recruiting prospects and two of the best players on the court each game. Blair clearly is a step behind.
But that’s starting to change this season with the 6-foot-6 wing cracking the starting lineup and showing off his off-the-charts athleticism.
It’s because of Blair’s athleticism that Gorman won arguably its most significant game of the season, topping Findlay Prep 76-72 in overtime at the South Point Arena after Blair forced overtime with a buzzer-beating shot.
It’s a shot he likely wouldn’t have attempted last year.
With Gorman trailing by two with less than 10 seconds remaining, senior point guard Noah Robotham raced the ball up the court. Most of the estimated 2,000 people in attendance assumed Robotham, who scored a game-high 25 points and is Gorman’s team leader, would take the shot.
But he drew two defenders and passed the ball. Blair aggressively took the ball to the basket, and as the buzzer sounded, made a layup to even the score at 64 and force overtime.
“My first reaction was to go and get a basket. Fortunately, it just happened to be a buzzer-beater,” Blair said.
Gorman opened the game on a 13-0 scoring run and outplayed Findlay for the initial three quarters to build a 44-34 entering the final eight minutes. But Henderson-based Findlay, a national power which held a 6-0 record against Gorman in their annual late-January showcase, finally awoke and quickly chipped into the deficit.
Findlay took its first lead when Rashad Vaughn, the nation’s No. 7 overall recruiting prospect by Rivals.com and a prized UNLV target, drilled a 3-pointer from the corner with 47 seconds remaining for a one-point advantage.
The teams exchanged free throws down the stretch until Findlay’s Renathan Ona Embo only connected on 1 of 2 attempts with about eight seconds to go. That’s when Blair, not Zimmerman or Jeter, forced overtime.
Blair is easily Gorman’s most improved player and arguably its best athlete. Earlier in the game, he showed off that ability in dunking over two Findlay players.
“We still need to get Nick more aggressive,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “Nick is one of the best athletes in the state. When he is on, he is on. We have to continue to get him to be aggressive because he is really a big part of our team, both offensively and defensively.”
The original “Big Three” of Shabazz Muhammad, Rosco Allen and Ben Carter never beat Findlay. They came close as juniors in losing on a buzzer-beater in double overtime in 2011. In that game, Robotham hit a game-tying 3-pointer in the second overtime, but admitted this week he had no idea how much time was on the clock.
Saturday, he was in complete control with the game on the line.
“I had to make the right basketball play,” Robotham said. “I knew they expected me to shoot the game-winning shot. But as a point guard, my coaches have instilled confidence in me to make the right play. In that situation, the right play was for Nick to get the ball.”
While Blair hit the big shot and Robotham was steady from start to finish, what excites Rice most about the win is how it was a team effort.
Jeter fouled out in the fourth quarter, bringing sophomore reserve Zach Collins off the bench in crunch time. In overtime, Collins hit a 3-pointer to give Gorman a 69-66 lead, then after Vaughn hit a triple to tie the score, Collins scored on a nifty inside move to give Gorman the lead for good.
Zimmerman made two free throws to ice the game in the final seconds of overtime and finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Shooting guard Obim Okeke was solid defensively and scored 12 points, including 6 of 9 from the line.
“We knew at some point with the teams we’ve had, we’d get a win (against Findlay),” Rice said. “I’m excited. I’m happy for our guys.”
Findlay was out of sync most the game. On a team of multiple blue-chip recruits, including sure-thing McDonald’s All-American and Kansas commit Kelly Oubre, the Pilots managed just three first-quarter points and missed their initial 11 field goal attempts. From the free throw line, they made just 21 of 38 attempts, which was likely the difference in the game.
Vaughn, with UNLV coach Dave Rice and assistant coach Todd Simon sitting courtside, scored 11 points in the second quarter to keep Findlay in the game and finish with 21 points. Oubre tallied 22 points.
But, on this afternoon, Gorman finally had Findlay’s number. All thanks to a player finally living up to his spot in the “Big Three.”
“Of course I was humbled (by the struggles),” said Blair, who finished with 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting. “I went down and (Jeter and Zimmerman) went up. But I told myself not to worry about. I got back to the lab and kept working hard. ...To be the first team to beat Findlay Prep is huge. It will go down in the record books.”