Jeremy Rincon / Special to the Sun
Friday, Feb. 19, 2016 | 10:45 p.m.
Ray Brewer and Case Keefer commence postseason festivities by glancing at all three regional tournament brackets.
Troy Brown Jr. hoisted a potential game-winning 3-pointer as the final buzzer sounded, but it hit off the iron and into the hands of Bishop Gorman’s Chuck O’Bannon.
Gaels’ center Zach Collins raised his hands into the air in jubilation and sprinted to mid-court where the celebratory dog pile commenced.
Bishop Gorman edged Centennial 71-69 Friday night in the Sunset Regional Final that lived up to every bit of the hype.
“It feels amazing,” Collins said. “I didn’t think anything would top beating Findlay Prep, but this trumps it. I’m incredibly proud of my guys. I’m so happy for them.”
Collins was nearly unstoppable in the paint for Bishop Gorman, making 11 of his 14 shots and racking up 24 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks.
“I told my team to get behind me and I was going to carry them,” Collins said.
On the game’s final play, Bulldogs junior Jamaal Evans shot a 3-pointer just over Collins’ outstretched hands. The shot missed but Brown grabbed the rebound and was able to try another but to no avail.
“Gutsy call by coach (Todd) Allen to use Troy Brown as a decoy and throw it to Evans for the three and man he got a good look,” said Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice. “One more inch and that ball goes in and they win the game.”
Centennial led the game 47-41 at the half after shooting 58 percent from the floor.
“Going into the half we were pretty frustrated,” Collins said. “We thought we should have been up by 10, so we had a lot of energy in the third quarter. We try to use our inside presence and our physicality to win games.”
Collins put up nine quick points in the third quarter and almost singlehandedly outscored the Bulldogs.
“Zach did a great job,” Rice said. “We know how good he is, so guys just kept feeding him the ball. We know he will finish inside.”
The lead never reached double digits for either team, and the only thing that could have topped the back-and-forth play was the atmosphere around it.
The stands were overflowing with fans to the point where students began standing at the railing in the back just to get a glimpse of the action.
“It was crazy. This is probably the loudest high school game I have ever played in,” Collins said. “It was exhilarating and it fueled all of us. It was a wonderful way to go out and I couldn’t be happier.”
O’Bannon added 21 points and four assists for the Gaels, including three huge shots from behind the arc that stopped the bleeding when Centennial was trying to extend its lead.
The unsung hero for the Gaels was Byron Frohnen, who finished 6-of-7 from the field with 16 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
“Byron is our Mr. Everything,” Rice said. “He doesn’t get the credit but he is as valuable as anyone. He does a little bit of everything and I’m happy that he has shown the city what he can do.”
Centennial’s Brown scored a team-high 19 points in defeat, but was only 7-of-21 from the floor.
Senior guard Roy Sparks hit two 3-pointers in the first half from well beyond the arc to ignite the Bulldogs' early run and finished the game with 16 points.
Now the Gaels will head north for the state tournament along with the top two teams from the north and Coronado, who rolled Eldorado 70-32 in the Sunrise Region final.
While this game may have felt like the championship, and was likely the Gaels' stiffest test they will face, Rice says not to expect any hangover up in Reno.
“It would be one thing if we played tomorrow but we don’t play again until Thursday,” Rice said. “We will get ready for the Reno teams and we will be focused. It’s a whole different ball game when you get to Lawlor Events Center in a big arena, and the guys will be ready to play.”
With a win over Findlay Prep in January and only two games standing in its way to another state championship, it appears Bishop Gorman will remain atop the basketball mountain in Southern Nevada for another year.
“We’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point,” Collins said. “They wrote us off in the beginning of the season saying it was Centennial’s year, but we just took that as motivation and came out here and played our hearts out.”