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Bishop Gorman junior Johnny Braggs excels in win over Durango

Bishop Gorman junior Johnny Braggs was fairly certain after an 85-67 home victory Monday night over Durango.

His 25 points were a career high. At least at the varsity level.

“(I’ve kept) working hard. Just working in the gym,” Braggs said after his breakout performance. “Getting a lot of early hours.”

They’re paying dividends.

Braggs punished Durango by converting 8 of 15 field goals — including 5 of 9 from 3-point range — and keyed the Gaels to yet another crucial Southwest League victory. The 6-foot, 3-inch off-guard scored 18 points in the first half to prevent the Trailblazers from pulling away amid a blistering pace and impressive efforts from Anthony Hunter and Keshon Gilbert.

He also made a critical 3-pointer at the beginning of a second half in which Gorman (19-3, 9-0 Southwest League) outscored Durango (16-5, 6-2) by a 40-18 margin.

“Without Johnny, we lose the game tonight,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “He’s having an unbelievable junior year, he’s getting Division I attention and he’s going to get a scholarship.”

Braggs played sparingly during his freshman and sophomore seasons, but is in an expanded role this season because of a couple transfers in Gorman’s frontcourt and an injury to senior Stanford recruit Noah Taitz. He shoots from the perimeter, attacks closeouts to finish at the rim and pesters opposing guards defensively.

He made four first-half 3-pointers Monday and helped Gorman to a 24-17 first-quarter lead. But the Trailblazers responded by increasing the pace of play, and scored 32 points in the second quarter to seize a 49-45 lead at the break.

Hunter and Gilbert knifed through Gorman’s full-court zone defense to score at the basket and create looks for shooters flanked around the arc. The Gaels pulled back their defense in the second half, though, and used a 2-3 zone to smother Durango and limit drives to the rim.

Four-star guards Zaon Collins, Will McClendon and Braggs picked apart the Trailblazers on the other end, and unsigned four-star senior forward Mwani Wilkinson feasted inside for 20 points and 11 rebounds. Senior forward Braden Lamar added 18 points and five rebounds for the Gaels, and Collins supplied 11 points and eight assists.

Hunter is one of the area’s top unsigned seniors, and had 21 points and eight assists. Gilbert, a UNLV commit, posted 18 points, three assists and three steals.

“They’re hard to defend,” Rice said. “We just talked at halftime, ‘Let’s stick with the zone.’ ”

It worked.

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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