Cimarron rides Banks, Lang to ‘Cinderella’ state title
RENO – The afterglow following Cimarron Memorial’s 64-60 win over Cheyenne in the finals of Friday’s Nevada 4A state basketball tournament was vintage high school sports, a snippet of what interscholastic competition is – and should be – all about.
Cimarron (Las Vegas) coach Hank Girardi fought back tears as he shook hands with an impromptu receiving line of Spartan boosters near the team’s locker room after the game. Doting parents, armed with an assortment of video cameras and 35-mm instruments, tried to capture the moment as they snapped pictures of the postgame revelry. Spartan players and coaches exchanged bear hugs, high-fives and thank-yous as Cimarron students – most of whom wore maroon-and-white “Yo Quiero State” T-shirts – watched and waited in a nearby stairwell. Spartan guard Marcus Banks sported a recently removed basketball net around his neck, donned a state championship ballcap and talked about how special the moment was.
“When we came up here, I knew none of our players had very much state tournament experience,” said Girardi, who won a state title in 1993 with then-3A Cimarron. “I told the kids to maintain their focus, eliminate distractions and follow a routine. The kids bought into our philosophy and they seemed to gel, unite and peak at just the right time.”
The Spartans (21-12) simply outlasted Cheyenne (28-6), maintaining their poise during the game’s decisive final minutes. Desert Shields guard Larry Graves sank a pair of free throws with 4:08 to go to give Cheyenne a 55-52 lead. Cimarron guard Brian Lang, who scored a game-high 30, rattled off the next five points, giving the Spartans a 57-55 lead with 3:08 left in the game.
The teams then traded a pair of interior shots and Cheyenne’s Demetrius Hunter netted a pair of free throws, setting the stage for the contest’s last two minutes. Cimarron stuck with its in-your-face defense, forcing several misses and a pair of final-minute traveling calls out of Desert Shields guard Larry Graves. A layup by Lang with 33 seconds remaining gave Cimarron a 62-59 margin and Deshaun Houston sunk a free throw with 3.7 to go to seal the deal for the underdog Spartans.
“We were confident in ourselves and that meant a lot,” said Lang, who outclassed Cheyenne’s Hunter in a meeting of two of the state’s most explosive guards. “If one us fell, the other picked him up. That’s the kind of team we are.”
The Spartans topped Galena and Durango en route to Friday’s finals, making possible a storied 9-1 run to the state title. Cimarron, grounded in fifth place in the South’s Sunset Valley Division for most of the season, had to win five in a row just to qualify for the zone and state tournaments.
“We feel like 100 percent people,” said Banks, who scored 20 points and was the calm, elegant yin to Lang’s high-flying, explosive yang. “It was so hard to get here after our bad start, but we did. It’s so great to be able to enjoy this moment.”
Cimarron led 35-30 at halftime, with the Banks-Lang duo accounting for 25 of the team’s 35 points. The Spartans defeated the Desert Shields on the glass, scooping up 21 rebounds to Cheyenne’s 17.
Cimarron shot 14-of-31 from the field (45.2 percent) in the first half to outclass cold-shooting Cheyenne. The Spartans shut down Hunter, holding him to 20 points, including just five in the first half, after watching him explode for 38 against Clark the night before.
The Desert Shields topped South Tahoe, 63-52, in the 4A quarterfinals on Wednesday. Hunter, who will play hoops for Georgetown next season, shot 4-of-21 from the field, including 1 for 7 from behind the arc in the final.
“Coach told me if I stay in his hip pocket all game long, he’ll eventually get frustrated,” Lang said. “That’s what I did and I think it worked.”
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