Shaquile Carr’s teammates formed a circle around the Canyon Springs senior guard at midcourt and followed along as he led another celebration.
It was a dance Carr had been waiting a year to perform.
Carr had 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, and the Pioneers held off Las Vegas 64-55 on Friday in the Sunrise Region final at Green Valley.
Canyon Springs, which won its second straight region title and third in four seasons, advances to the Division I state tournament. The Pioneers (24-4) take on the No. 2 seed from the Northern Region at 4:40 p.m. Thursday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
“This is the kind of kid Shaq is. Last year he told me, ‘Coach, we’re going back to state next year. I’m taking the team back next year,’ ” Pioneers coach Freddie Banks said. “It takes big (guts) to tell someone that and be able to back it up and get back to state. He did it.”
Carr, who has given an oral commitment to Texas-El Paso, sat out the Pioneers’ run to the state tournament last season due to academic issues. He missed nine of his first 11 shots against Las Vegas (22-7), but went 6-for-8 from the field in the second half and also finished with 10 rebounds.
Carr’s 3-pointer put Canyon Springs up 53-48 midway through the fourth quarter, and his breakaway jam with 1:35 remaining gave the Pioneers a 57-51 advantage.
“Tonight was the night for me to prove I’m one of the best players in Las Vegas,” Carr said. “My team helped me do that.”
Re’Kwon Smith finished with 20 points to lead Las Vegas, which nearly got a triple-double from 6-foot-5-inch sophomore Tyler Bey (15 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocked shots). Smith’s two free throws cut Canyon Springs’ lead to 57-53, but Darrell McCall’s steal and three-point play with 1:06 left sealed the win.
“Everything on the line, that’s what you practice hundreds of times together and probably thousands of times on your own for,” Las Vegas coach Jason Wilson said. “When you put it all out there, to lose is disappointing. It hurts.”
Canyon Springs averaged 102.5 points per game in its first two postseason games and the Pioneers were able to get out in transition during the first quarter. But Gerad and Jordan Davis each went to the bench in the opening minute of the second quarter with two fouls, and the Pioneers offense struggled without the brothers on the floor.
Canyon Springs went 1-for-14 from the floor in the second quarter, and Las Vegas, which was playing in its first region final since 2002, used a 14-6 run to nab a 30-28 lead at the half.
“We tried to keep it close, keep the ball and stay within one or two points when Jordan and Gerad went out,” Banks said. “It was tough. But I let them know it wasn’t over.”
The Wildcats were up 36-33 when Smith picked up his fourth foul with 4:27 left in the third quarter, and Canyon Springs took advantage of the standout junior having to sit. Gerad Davis’ three-point play tied the score, and after back-to-back baskets by Bey, the Pioneers closed the quarter on a 12-0 run to take a 48-40 lead.
“We got into foul trouble and they made their run when our guys were out,” Wilson said. “We were trying to hang on for dear life there in the last four minutes of the third quarter. I thought the kids did a pretty good job.”
The Pioneers tried to shorten the game in the fourth quarter by stalling on offense, and the surprising move nearly backfired. Canyon Springs went 0-for-2 from the floor and turned over the ball twice in its first four possessions of the quarter as Las Vegas opened on a 7-0 spurt.
“We tried to make them come out and play man (defense) because we knew they couldn’t stay with us man-to-man,” Banks said.
Bey had a thunderous follow-up dunk to cap the run and cut Canyon Springs’ lead to 48-47, but that was as close as the Wildcats got.
“This is big for my kids. They always kept in mind they wanted to get back to the state championship,” Banks said. “It’s hard to beat a team three straight times. I tip my hat to Jason and that program.”