Guard transforms Reno into Morgan-town
By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
RENO – Throughout the season, most of the hype surrounding the Reno High boys’ basketball team centered on Olek Czyz, a 6-foot-8 senior who will play for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
But on the biggest stage of the season, it was 5-11 junior guard Austin Morgan who delivered when the Huskies needed it most on Friday.
Morgan scored 35 of his game-high 37 points in the final three quarters as Reno rallied past Cheyenne 76-72 to win its second Nevada 4A state boys’ basketball title in three years.
“It was just a really good night, and I just wanted to do it for the seniors, this being their last game. I wanted to make it memorable,” said Morgan, whose big scoring night was two points off his career high.
Morgan’s scintillating performance didn’t catch his coach off guard.
“He works so hard when no one is watching. He works when no one’s watching because he knows that someday there is gonna be a bunch of people watching,” said Reno coach Kyle Schellin.
Two minutes into the title game, however, Schellin wondered if he would have Morgan for the rest of the night.
“Two minutes into the game, he tweaked his ankle, and he hasn’t done that all year,” Schellin said. “My heart dropped because we are a completely different team without him. But he sucked it up.”
The Desert Shields led by as many as 14 points in the first quarter before Reno switched to a 2-3 zone, reducing Cheyenne’s close looks.
Morgan triggered a late first-half run that whittled the Desert Shields’ halftime lead to one, 33-32. After feeding Czyz for a dunk and foul shot, Morgan cashed in a pair of free throws, then turned a steal into a layup just before the halftime buzzer.
“The little that we knew about Cheyenne we knew that they were an explosive team, especially to start the game,” Schellin said. “We didn’t plan to go down like that, but these kids have been in similar situations more this year, and because of that we didn’t panic.
“The other thing is that they came out shooting the ball extremely well, and that’s something that can come and go. They couldn’t shoot any better than they did the first four minutes of the game.”
The halftime break didn’t cool off Morgan. He started the second half with a three-pointer and finished with 12 points in a period that ended with Reno leading 56-50.
Cheyenne came back to take a one-point lead several times in the final eight minutes – the last at 63-62 midway into the fourth.
A layup by Zachary Smith put Reno ahead for good, and Morgan made certain the Desert Shields didn’t get it back. In the final 3 1/2 minutes, Morgan scored 12 points. He followed his own miss for a deuce, hit three foul shots after being knocked to the floor on a three-point attempt, drained a three-pointer and then hit four pressure foul shots after Cheyenne rallied to within two points.
“They won the game as opposed to us losing it,” said Cheyenne coach Teral Fair. “They definitely made plays when they had to.”
On both trips to the foul line in the final minute, Morgan needed to hit the front end of a one-and-one to get a second chance. Three of his four attempts barely touched the net.
“Some guys wouldn’t want to go step to the free throw line in that situation, but Austin has lived his whole life to step to the free-throw line in that situation,” Schellin said.
Added Fair, “The kid is a gamer. I work with him in the summer, and the kid has a tremendous heart. He made plays.”
Czyz had 18 points and 10 boards for Reno (27-6). Christian Lightbourne, scoring most of his buckets around the basket, led Cheyenne (19-8) with 20 points. Highly touted Cheyenne guard Elijah Johnson added 19.
It marked the third straight season that a Northern 4A team captured the state championship – a run preceded by Southern schools winning 13 straight titles.
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