Jeff Mulvihill Jr. / Special to the Sun
Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 | 11:30 p.m.
RENO — Three possessions. Three spectacular plays. And a fifth straight state title in blowout fashion.
The Bishop Gorman High basketball team opened the Division I state championship game Friday night against Coronado at Lawlor Events Center with 15 unanswered points to take a commanding lead in winning yet another title with an 83-63 victory.
If the hot start hadn’t already halted Coronado’s hopes of an upset victory, a sequence of plays from Gorman junior Chuck O’Bannon Jr. early in the second quarter confirmed the Gaels’ dominance.
First, he buried a step-back 3-pointer in transition. On the Gaels' next possession, he hit an uncontested 3-pointer. Then, after a rare first-half basket for Coronado, he soared high above the rim to grab an alley-oop pass from Christian Popoola for a dunk that had most in the arena on their feet.
There were still six minutes to play in the second quarter and Gorman led 33-8.
“In order for us to win the game we had to punch them in the mouth at the beginning,” O’Bannon said. “That is what we were focused on at the beginning. Get a big lead and let it carry over for the rest of the game.”
When the Gaels reach the championship game, the outcome is usually lopsided.
They needed a pair of late free throws to beat Palo Verde to win the 2009 championship, but haven’t been challenged in the finals since in winning six of the last seven seasons. Tonight’s win is No. 18 all-time for the program, moving it past Virginia City for the most all-time in Nevada. It’s Rice’s ninth championship as coach.
“The plan was to jump on them early. We just turned up the pressure from the start,” Rice said.
O’Bannon finished with a game-high 26 points, Popoola had 16 points and nine assists, and McDonald’s All-American center Zach Collins had 10 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots. During the scoring outburst to open the game, Collins and senior Byron Frohnen challenged most shots at the rim, frustrating Coronado into a slow start.
Gorman is a regular participant in the state game. Coronado, which opened in 2001, was playing in the state tournament for the first time. They experience was obvious.
“In a few days, I’ll definitely sit back and think about what we accomplished, and how we were part of this dynasty,” Collins said.
Gorman, with blue-chip college recruits O’Bannon and Popoola leading the way, is expected to again compete for a championship next season. Coronado expects to be back in the tournament, too.
Aside from senior Jake DesJardins, one of the Cougars’ top players, each of their contributors in the playoff run returns next season. Junior Nick Davis peaked toward the end of the season and scored 18 points Friday night. Post player Kennedy Koehler also didn’t back down in scoring 14 points, including multiple aggressive dribble drives to the basket. Juniors Trey Hurlburt and Bryce Savoy, two starters, also return to give Coronado a good nucleus.
“We are very young. We have a week off and we’ll be back in the gym,” Coronado coach Jeff Kaufman said. ”We got a taste of being on this stage. We are young; let’s do it again. For us, it’s a learning experience. We’ll be back — I guarantee it.”
But for now the Cougars, and every other team in Nevada, are again chasing Gorman. They seem to reload each season. Despite having to replace a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans in the starting lineup this season, the outcome was the same — another championship for the Gorman dynasty.
“It’s great to be associated with a school that’s all about family and loyalty,” Rice said. “(The winning) is all about the school and (Gorman) community.”