RENO — The Incline boys buried many Division III opponents with their blanketing defensive pressure and high-volume offense. But Agassi Prep is a different animal.
In a state championship showdown Saturday between the North and South’s top-seeded Division III teams, Incline led for much of the way and by as many as nine points midway through the third quarter using its aggressive brand of full-court press defense and double-teams.
Agassi Prep — large and athletic and with only one loss on its record — began breaking the press with regularity in the second half, however, just about the time the Highlanders went cold from the field. The Stars carved away at the lead until pulling even, then steadily edged ahead in the fourth quarter to earn a 71-60 win.
“I think the guys who needed to make big plays for them made big plays,” said Incline coach Tim Kelly, speaking primarily of Deishuan Booker and Kenneth Hatano, who combined for 50 points. “I do think we ran down a little bit, but I’m not going to use that as an excuse. They beat us. They did a good job to beat our press, and they deserve to win the game in that respect. They beat our strength.”
The Highlanders’ strength carried them well into the third quarter, when consecutive buckets by junior guards Jack Clouthier and Jack Bessette gave Incline its biggest lead of the game at 44-35.
While Incline continued to pester Agassi Prep ball handlers in the backcourt, the Stars regularly escaped the pressure and converted on the other end. A three-point play by Booker, who finished with a game-high 30 points, capped a 10-1 run and knotted the score at 45-all.
After a score in the post by Incline senior Christian Biscotti, Hatano scored the next six points to give Agassi Prep a 51-47 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The Highlanders maintained their defensive pressure into the fourth but were a step behind, which resulted in easy transition points for the Stars or Incline fouls. Agassi Prep shot 23 free throws in the final frame, making 16, and 41 total, making 31. Booker alone was 15-of-18 from the line in the fourth. Incline, meanwhile, shot 17 free throws in the game and made 10.
“The third quarter was big for them,” Kelly said. “I think with them making their shots, and us not, I think our guys were kind of like, ‘Oh wow, someone’s with us late.’ Because not too many teams have stayed with us late. But these guys stuck around and stuck around, and they deserve to win the game.”
Incline seemed destined to win its second title in four years before the Stars came back in the third.
Buckets were falling early, as Incline connected on three 3-pointers in the first quarter and created multiple turnovers to take a 19-14 lead by the end of the period.
Senior guard Orin Porter heated up in the second quarter, scoring 10 of his team-high 26 points, including the final six points of the half as Incline entered the break up 36-31.
Porter opened the second half with steal and a layup and a midrange jumper as Incline took a 40-32 lead. After going up 44-35, the Highlanders struggled the rest of the way as their shots began missing their mark.
“Part of it is, we feed off our defense, but we also feed off of our offense. If you make some buckets, it’s a little easier to fly around defensively,” Kelly said. “Tonight we just didn’t quite make the shots we needed to make, and I don’t know that our defensive intensity was as good as last night. But still, we played the best team in the state tonight, and they won, and that’s the way it is.”
The Highlanders connected on only six 3-pointers in the contest, compared to 13 the night before in a 98-89 semifinal win over The Meadows.
Aside from Porter’s 26, Clouthier added 10 points, Biscotti had nine, Alex Zissis seven, Bessette four and Dylan Comstock three. Hatano had 20 points for Agassi Prep and Kobe Williams added 12.
Incline, which entered state as the North’s No. 1 seed after winning the regional title, finished the year 24-7 overall and 17-3 against Division III competition. Agassi Prep, which also defeated Incline in the 2012 championship game, finished 25-1 overall.
“It was a very fun season and we worked very hard,” said Porter, one of three seniors along with Biscotti and Jason Guth. “We had a little bit of a rough start, but once we got into gear we started to win games.”
“I told them all they should be very proud,” Kelly said. “Of course we wanted the bigger trophy; everyone wants the bigger trophy. But second place in the state is a trophy we should be extremely proud of. We won 24 games. I’ve never coached a 20-win season. These young men did a great job. I’m really proud of what they did this season.”