Tarkanian Classic: Gorman Rallies, Triumphs In Epic Clash!

In a contest that will go down as the best individual game in the Tarkanian Classic’s 10-year history, FAB 50 No. 17 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) rallied from 19 points down in the first half to knock off cross-town Liberty (Henderson, Nev.) in double overtime, 97-95. There was enough storylines to fill up an empty Las Vegas ballroom and the epic game won’t be the final saga this season between these two newfound rivals. Crean Lutheran (Irvine, Calif.) captures the Nike Division championship to remain unbeaten.

Towards the end of the first half of the Platinum Division championship game of the 2021 Tarkanian Classic, the Bishop Gorman Gaels looked like they had finally met their match from a local team in the prestigious tournament. Bishop Gorman trailed, 47-28, right before halftime, until 2023 guard Eli Bradley knocked down a 3-pointer to make the score 47-31 going into halftime. It was Bradley’s only field goal of the game, but it was an important moment to give the Gaels some positive momentum.

“At halftime we talked about our culture and how we never let a team beat us at home,” said Bishop Gorman’s Darrion Williams. “We never gave up. We were letting them off the hook.”

The Gaels came all the way back to win the game in double overtime, 97-95, on a 16-foot jumper by 2024 guard John “Juni” Mobley right before the second overtime buzzer to set off a celebration that was more relief than elation. That’s because it was the second celebration for the Gaels’ bench in the game.

Near the end of regulation with the game tied at 75, Liberty’s King Solomon, a 2022 guard, had his shot blocked by Gorman 2025 forward Chris Nwuli that was recovered on the floor by teammate Ryan Abelman, a 2022 senior guard bound for Northern Arizona. Abelman passed the ball to 2024 guard Ryder Elisaldez in front of the Liberty bench and heaved the ball from approximately 70 feet from the basket. Incredibly, the shot banked in with the clock reading 0:00. It appeared to some observers the ball was out of Elisaldez’s before the buzzer sounded, while others felt it clearly came after the clock read 0:00. The made bank shot set off a wild celebration as Gorman fans and hanger-ons rushed the court and pleaded with the refs to count Elisaldez’s heave. The refs’ call in real time stood and the game went into overtime.

Both teams had to emotionally recompose themselves for overtime and Bishop Gorman (10-0) actually went down five points in the first overtime. With the shot clock off in the first overtime, Liberty’s Josh Jefferson made two free throws to give the Patriots a 87-84 lead, but the Gaels quickly got the ball downcourt and Abelman knocked down a clutch 3-pointer in front of his own bench with four seconds remaining to send the game into a second overtime.

In the second extra stanza, Liberty (6-1) got behind on the scoreboard because of its shaky ball-handling in the deep backcourt. Gorman’s defensive intensity had something to do with that, but the Gaels also smelled blood when Liberty’s Dedan Thomas, a 2024 prospect and the Patriots’ primary ball-handler, fouled out with with 3:26 remaining in regulation. Gorman’s James Freeman, a 2022 forward, got a steal under his own basket that lead to an Abelman lay-up, but Angelo Kambala, a 2023 guard, hit a clutch 3-pointer to give Liberty a 92-91 lead with 1:24 remaining.

Gorman took a 95-92 lead on two free throws by Mobley, but Liberty cut its deficit to two when Aaron Price Jr., a 2022 wing forward, made one of two free throws. With 30 seconds remaining and Gorman in control, 2025 forward Chris Nwuli took the ball towards Gorman’s basket in the open court and dunked on Price, but the athletic freshman was called for a charge. Liberty got the ball up court and got the ball in the key to Jefferson, who was fouled with 14 seconds remaining. He made both, his 40th and 41st points of the game, before Mobley’s heroics at the end of the game.

Mobley got in good position in front of his own bench and with a shot fake got Solomon in the air. He re-set his feet and knocked down the game-winning shot that will be remembered for a long time by Sin City basketball fans.

“I have been playing for 13 years, so this is nothing new,” said Mobley, who scored 15 points, 13 after intermission. “I kept saying to myself, ‘it’s going to come.’ I knew he (Solomon) was going for the fake. It never crossed my mind we were going to lose. Yes, this was the best game I’ve ever played in.”

Gorman was led in the scoring department by Abelman, the unsung shooting guard who finished with 28 points. Williams, who made some key plays down the stretch in the second half, was named tournament Most Valuable Player after scoring 13 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals. He’s one of the top unsigned 2022 prospects on the West Coast. Jase Richardson, a 2024 guard, added 12 points.

Nwuli and Freeman combined for six blocks, all in the second half for the Gaels.

In addition to his 41 points, which is a Platinum Division championship game record, Jefferson added 14 rebounds for Liberty, which came into the event on the FAB 50 bubble but could appear in the next set of rankings in 2022 with a good performance at the Xavier Winter Classic in Palm Desert, Calif., December 27-30. As for Jefferson, Gorman didn’t have an answer for the hybrid forward and he continues to not only look like a national top 100 prospect, but a major get for Randy Bennett’s St. Mary’s program.

Kambala finished with 10 points and Price had 16 points and five rebounds for the Patriots. Kaeden Castillero, a 2024 guard, gave Liberty a big spark with 15 points first half point. He did not score after intermission.

“I told the guys this game is not over, we’re going to win this game, let’s take it a possession at a time,” said Bishop Gorman head coach Grant Rice about his coaching staff’s halftime speech. “We stuck to our defensive principles much more in the second half. I believed we had a chance to get back in the game.”

With its memorable victory, Bishop Gorman captured the Tarkanian Classic for the third time in four tries and five years. Centennial (Corona, Calif.) prevented a Gaels 3-peat in the 2019 title game. Of course, there was no high school season in 2020-21 for Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association (NIAA) programs because of COVID-19 concerns. Tuesday’s epic game was the second ever all-Vegas final of the Platinum Division. Bishop Gorman downed Clark (Las Vegas) in 2017, which was also the first time the host club won the tournament championship.

Liberty and Bishop Gorman, which came into the event ranked No. 17 in the latest FAB 50 National Rankings, will lock horns on January 27 and potentially three more times, including in the Southern Nevada playoffs and the NIAA state finals in Reno, Nev. Liberty had a lot of motivation coming into the event for what it felt was a “snub” from the top division of the Border League, a national level fall league event in which the Patriots participated in a lower division. The growing rivalry between the two teams, the intensity of this championship game and the manner in which it played out is a positive for Las Vegas basketball.

There is little doubt Bishop Gorman was able to rally from behind in this game because of the implementation of a 30-second shot clock for the first time in the Platinum Division and for all divisional games of the event at Bishop Gorman. This game should be strong evidence that the NIAA, and other state associations that don’t use a shot clock, should implement one in the near future.

Bishop Gorman didn’t really get strong resistance from Durango (Las Vegas, Nev.) in its 71-59 semifinal victory. The Gaels were in control throughout, as Richardson led five Gorman players in double-digit scoring with 13 points. Seven Gorman players scored at least eight points in the win over the Trailblazers.

In the big 79-62 semifinal victory over Oak Cliff Faith Family (Dallas), Price had a career game with 17 points and six rebounds. Price, a 2022 wing forward, parlayed that performance into an offer from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Thomas scored a team-high 18 points, while Jefferson had 13 points and eight rebounds. As a team, Liberty made nine 3-pointers in the victory over Faith Family and eight in the championship game.

Oak Cliff Faith Family defeated Durango in the Platinum Division third place game, 67-60.

In one of the most highly-anticipated second division title games of all-time at the Tarkanian Classic, Crean Lutheran (Irvine, Calif.) took on John Paul II (Plano, Texas) and the Orange County, Calif., club came away with a 73-64 victory in the Nike Division. The game was close in the first half, as John Paul II (19-5) got a terrific scoring performance from 2023 forward Gabe Warren to keep in range. The physically strong wing who fields offers from Rice, TCU, and Oakland, among others, had 20 first half points, as John Paul II trailed 31-27 at halftime.

Warren had a career type game (similar to the one Price did for Liberty in its semifinal win), adding 14 points in the second half to finish with 34 points to go along with four steals. It still wasn’t enough for John Paul (which lost to Platinum Division semifinalist Oak Cliff Faith Family 86-43 earlier in the season) to overcome all the weapons Crean Lutheran had at its disposal, particularly UCSB-bound power forward Koat Keat. John Paul didn’t have an answer for Keat’s versatility and offensive skill around the basket, as he came up with 16 points and seven rebounds in the second half. He finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, including some back-breaking baskets down the stretch.

The NIKE Division MVP was Crean Lutheran’s Vyctorius Miller, one of the most talented 2024 guards in the country. He followed up his 30-point performance in the 71-54 semifinal win over Bingham (Utah) with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists versus John Paul II. Crean Lutheran (7-0), which earlier this season had to pull out of the Corona Del Mar Beach Bash Tournament because of COVID-19 protocols, also received an impactful performance from seven-foot James Agany. The unsigned 2022 prospect added six points and 11 rebounds for the Saints, while 2022 guard Parker Tuttle hit two 3-pointers in each half and finished with 14 points.

Talented 2024 forward Liam McNeeley finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while R.J. Jones, a highly-recruited 2023 shooting guard, added 10 points for John Paul II.

2021 Tarkanian Classic Platinum Division All-Tourney Team

Ryan Abelman (Bishop Gorman) 2022 G Northern Arizona
T.J. Caldwell (Faith Family) 2022 G Ole Miss
Taj DeGourville (Durango) 2024 WF
Jurian Dixon (St. Augustine/San Diego, Calif.) 2023 WF
Marcellus Franklin (Sheldon/Sacramento, Calif.) 2022 PF
Jason Hart II (St. Bernard/Playa del Rey, Calif.) 2022 PG Long Beach State
Richard “Pop Pop” Isaacs Jr. (Coronado/Henderson, Nev.) 2022 PG Texas Tech
Josh Jefferson (Liberty) 2022 PF St. Mary’s
Austin Johnson (Salesian/Richmond, Calif.) 2022 G
Andrew Meadow (West Ranch/Santa Clarita, Calif.) 2023 PF
John Mobley II (Bishop Gorman) 2024 CG
David Onanina (Bishop O’Connell/Arlington, Va.) 2022 PF
Aaron Price (Liberty) 2022 WF
Jalen Reece (Oak Ridge/Orlando, Fla.) 2025 PG
Cavan Reilly (Bishop O’Connell/Arlington, Va.) 2022 G
Jase Richardson (Bishop Gorman) 2024 PG
Noah Shelby (Greenhill School/Addison, Texas) 2022 SG Vanderbilt
Dedan Thomas Jr. (Liberty) 2024 PG
Brandon Walker (Faith Family) 2022 PF UT-Arlington
Darrion Williams (Bishop Gorman) 2022 WF (MVP)
Andre Young (Pebblebrook/Mableton, Ga.) 2022 CG
Kami Young (Pebblebrook/Mableton, Ga.) 2022 CG Rider
Jevon Yapi (Durango/Las Vegas NV) 2025 PG

Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at ronnie@ballislife.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores

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