Clutch 3-pointer puts Gorman boys in 4A title game

RENO — Bishop Gorman struggled mightily from the perimeter on Thursday.

But freshman Will McClendon knocked down a long-range jumper at one of the game’s biggest moments.

McClendon’s 3-pointer with 2:27 to play broke a 62-62 tie, and the Gaels went on to defeat Spanish Springs 75-68 in the Class 4A boys state basketball semifinals at Lawlor Events Center.

“We want him shooting the ball because we know he can knock them down,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “The confidence he had after missing several shots … that really gave us the lead for good.”

McClendon was 1-for-6 from the field and 0-for-4 on 3-pointers before Noah Taitz drove and dished to him on the left wing, and his jumper was true to give the Gaels the lead for good. Gorman was 5-for-27 on 3-pointers.

The Gaels (28-4), who have won six consecutive state titles, play Bishop Manogue (24-5) for the title at 8:10 p.m. on Friday at Lawlor.

Getting there wasn’t easy, as Spanish Springs (24-6) took control early and led 44-37 at the half.

“I don’t know when the last time we’ve given up 25 points in the first quarter,” Rice said. “We tried to press them, and obviously they handled the press pretty well. Their field goal percentage in the first quarter was really good.”

Spanish Springs was 11-for-16 from the field in the first quarter and 18-for-31 in the first half before Gorman made some defensive adjustments.

The strategy worked, as Gorman opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run, taking a 45-44 lead on a three-point play by Jamal Bey with 6:59 to go in the third.

“It was a little scary at first, because they made like every shot,” said Bey, who finished with a game-high 24 points. “But we were just like, ‘Do what we do and we should be good.’”

Rice said the team tried to focus on forcing Spanish Springs point guard Gaeton Panfili to give up the ball.

“We made some adjustments at halftime and started doubling Panfili, because he was really good,” Rice said. “He really controlled the game in the first half. We tried to get the ball out of his hands as much as we could.”

Still, Spanish Springs wouldn’t go away, and the Cougars took a 62-60 lead on a 3-pointer by Mason Whittaker with 5:18 to play.

“They’re a really good team,” Rice said. “They made some big shots. Every time we needed a stop, it seemed like they made a big 3.”

Taitz had 18 points, and Isaiah Cottrell added 14 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots for Gorman.

Jalen Townsell had 18 points for Spanish Springs, which had four players in double figures.

“Spanish Springs gave us all we could handle, and that’s probably good because we’ve got Bishop Manogue tomorrow night, and we know they’re going to be ready and play hard, too,” Rice said.

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