Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Friday, Feb. 25, 2011 | 10:28 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011 | 1:32 a.m.
One trophy wasn’t enough to symbolize the euphoria Canyon Springs forward Jared Brandon felt after his team demolished Reno’s Bishop Manogue 82-47 Friday night. So, he left the Orleans Arena with two.
The first was the one he and his teammates had worked toward all year — the 2011 Nevada state championship plaque. The other came unexpectedly.
In the seconds after the final buzzer sounded, Canyon Springs players and fans celebrated by rushing the court and leaping into a bonfire-sized pile. Brandon was at the bottom and came out with a cut and bruise below his left eye.
“It doesn’t even hurt,” Brandon said. “I hope I get a scar so I always remember this.”
Remembering this one won’t be a problem. It’s the first state title ever won by a team from Canyon Springs, a high school that opened in 2004 in North Las Vegas.
Brandon and childhood friend Michael Thompson led the Pioneers as they have all season. Thompson registered a game-high 19 points and three steals, while Brandon scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Thompson and Brandon were two of 10 seniors on the Canyon Springs roster. Most of them had played basketball together since they were children.
“These are my boys,” Thompson said as a slow grin stretched across his face, “and we are champions.”
From the beginning of the season, the Pioneers believed they were the best team in Nevada. They went undefeated against in-state competition last year before falling to Bishop Gorman in the state championship game.
“We fell a little short up in Reno last year,” Canyon Springs coach Daryl Branham said. “We just decided this is what we were going to do this year.”
The Pioneers ultimately did it their way — with pressure defense and transition offense. They forced Manogue to commit 21 turnovers and converted most of those into easy points on the other end.
“We always play like that,” Brandon said. “Get steals and make layups, because it’s the easiest shot you’re going to get.”
Seniors Chris Willis and Donald Anderson often initiated the Pioneers fast break offense. Willis controlled the boards all night, pulling down 11 rebounds, and Anderson directed the Pioneers in transition with five assists and no turnovers.
Seniors Trey Evans and Marquon Webster starred on defense. They combined to hold Manogue’s Niles Lujan — who scored 23 points in a monumental 45-44 upset against Bishop Gorman in the semifinals — to five points on 1-for-8 shooting.
“We did a great job of making Lujan work for everything he got,” Branham said. “That was one of our game plans.”
Canyon Springs trailed 3-2 after three minutes of play and never again for the rest of the game.
The Pioneers were up 29-14 by halftime and 61-29 at the end of the third quarter.
“From last year not winning in the state championship to returning, it’s a blessing for us,” Thompson said. “We all stayed together. We stayed humble and hungry and look at what happened.”
Branham challenged his team to play their best game of the year before they took the floor. He said he didn’t think they had played an entire 32 minutes perfectly yet this season.
Mark that off of the list, according to Brandon. Not only was this the Pioneers best performance of the season. It was the greatest of their lives.
“I’ve been thinking about this since my first day of high school,” Brandon said. “It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s unbelievable.”