Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017 | 9:19 p.m.
The Bishop Gorman High basketball team didn’t need a last-minute comeback to beat Clark this time.
Sophomore sharpshooter Noah Taitz made sure of it.
Taitz scored a game-high 26 points tonight for Gorman in the finals of the Tarkanian Classic, connecting on a trio of 3-pointers to open the second half in the Gaels’ convincing 69-56 victory against Clark in a rematch of last season’s state championship game.
That’s when Gorman erased an eight-point deficit in the final two minutes for its sixth straight title. But with Clark returning all of its key contributors, many observers around town pegged the Chargers — not the champs — as the team to beat.
That narrative certainly has changed.
“It motivated us a lot. (Outsiders) always put us down,” said tournament MVP Jamal Bey on Clark being ranked ahead of Gorman. “We always try to prove everyone wrong.”
Bey carried the Gaels to the finals with a 38-point effort against Centennial Corona in the preliminary rounds and quickly became one of the stars of the event. But against Clark the stage belonged to Taitz.
Taitz made 8-of-13 shots, including five 3-pointers. And whenever Clark inched back into the game, such as trimming a eight-point halftime deficit to two points early in the second half, Taitz was calm in draining an outside shot.
“Noah got hot there for a minute and put us back on top,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “He is the kind of kid when he sets his feet, you expect it to go in. When he misses, it’s kind of a surprise.”
Gorman and Clark didn’t expect to meet until late-January when they’ll play the first of two Southwest League games. They likely also meet in the Sunset Regional championship game in mid-February.
But when both advanced to the finals of the Tarkanian Classic — no small feat considering the event features a who’s who of national opponents — the two best teams in Nevada got to feel each other out for later in the season.
Clark led briefly by one point a few minutes into the game on a 3-pointer from junior Jalen Hill. But Hill was called for a second foul and spent the rest of the half on the bench. Gorman scored seven unanswered points and never trailed again.
“I thought we were playing really well and it was just 9-6. I said, ‘This could be trouble,’” Rice said. “Luckily we extended (the lead) a little bit.”
Bey, who scored 17, and Taitz weren’t Gorman lone contributors.
Sophomore forward Isaiah Cottrell, a top 2020 prospect, capped a solid tournament with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots. Chance Michaels had five points and four rebounds, and forward Saxton Howard and freshman Zaon Collins each contributed off the bench.
For Clark, UNLV signee Trey Woodbury led the way with 15 points, and Anton Jackson had 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
“They were the team to beat. They had everyone back from last year’s team,” Rice said. “They deserved to be the No. 1 team. Our guys are motivated because they want to win. They are winners. They are used to winning. They want represent Bishop Gorman and Las Vegas. Clark is a good team. This is the first of many battles.”
This was Gorman’s first championship in six years of hosting the Tarkanian Classic. More important, the Gaels gained an edge moving forward against Clark.
“This was special, but we are waiting for state. That’s what we are waiting on,” Bey said.