The Bishop Gorman High basketball team surrendered points on five of six defensive possessions to start the state semifinals Thursday night against Northern Region champion Spanish Springs.
Spanish Springs made 3-pointers, uncontested dunks and second-chance baskets.
With each positive play for Spanish Springs, and there were plenty in a 25-point first quarter, the pro-north crowd at Lawlor Events Center grew increasingly animated.
Gorman, the six-time defending state champion, was expected to win in blowout fashion. Instead, it trailed by seven points at halftime.
“They made, I don’t know, every shot,” Gorman senior Jamal Bey half-jokingly said.
Sixty-two seconds into the second half, that changed. Gorman went on an 8-0 scoring run to open the half and even the score, and eventually outlasted Spanish Springs 75-68 in advancing to Friday’s state championship game against Bishop Manogue.
Noah Taitz started the comeback by burying a 3-pointer on his first touch of the second half. After a Gorman steal, Isaiah Cottrell scored on a tip-in, and on Gorman’s next possession Bey converted a 3-point play.
Just like that, the deficit was gone. But instead of pulling away, as many expected Gorman to do, Spanish Springs kept plugging away. The teams exchanged baskets and scoring runs, and with less than four minutes to play Gorman trailed.
In the 2011 state semifinals, Gorman was upset in similar fashion against Bishop Manogue. You couldn’t help thinking it could happen again.
“Every time we needed a stop, it seemed (Spanish Springs would) make a three or a big two,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said.
Freshman Will McClendon had made just one bucket by late in the fourth quarter, but when he got the ball in the corner of the court and in front of Gorman’s bench, he didn’t hesitate to throw up the shot. The bad-shooting night was erased as McClendon buried a 3-pointer to give Gorman the lead for good. Bey, who scored a team-best 24 points, added free throws on Gorman’s next possession to extend the lead to two possessions.
Gorman will play for its seventh straight state championship Friday with a different mentality. They survived Spanish Springs’ upset bid and know Manogue — which lost to Spanish Springs by eight points last week — will also give its best effort.
“Spanish Springs gave us all we can handle. That is probably good because we have Bishop Manogue tomorrow night and they’ll come to play,” Rice said.
Gorman struggled with its outside shooting in making just 5-of-25 on 3-pointers. Spanish Springs connected on 58 percent of its first-half shots. Jalen Townsell had 18 points to lead Spanish Springs.
“We came out in the first quarter and took too many jump shots,” Rice said. “It is one of those things that if we make a few, things go differently. When was the last time we (gave) up 25 points in the first quarter?”
The 6-foot-9 Cottrell was a force on the inside all game in finishing with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go along with nine rebounds. Taitz finished with 18 points, McClendon had nine and Chance Michels contributed seven, including a critical second-half 3-pointer.
“We are ready. We are ready,” Bey said of the championship game.