Noma’aea’s late shot lifts Gaels JV to title

With his team down a point in the championship game of the Lake Mead Holiday Classic on Saturday, Chase Noma’aea seemed to make the 8.7 seconds remaining on the clock appear longer than they were.

Coming out of a timeout, the Bishop Gorman junior varsity basketball player knew his number was being called, and he wasn’t about to waste a golden opportunity.

“When we called the timeout, we called the play specifically for Chase to get the ball,” Gaels coach Rich Thornton said. “I had all the confidence in the world that he was going to finish the play.”

Aided by a perfectly executed screen from sophomore Deon Whiteside, Noma’aea drove the lane, slipping through a clump of Lake Mead defenders, to hit a short runner as time expired. The successful pick-and-roll vaulted the Gaels to a 67-66 victory and the tournament championship.

“He (Thornton) just told us to run a play, but it was specific to me,” Noma’aea said. “I knew I had to make a big shot, and that’s what I did. I came through for my team. It’s very exciting. I can’t put it into words.”

The Gorman JV held off the Eagles until the final 20 seconds, when point guard Justin Yamzon sank two free throws to put Lake Mead up 66-65 – its first lead since the 24-second mark of the third quarter.

The lead was short-lived, as the Eagles failed to contain the 6-foot-6-inch Noma’aea from getting an opportune look at the decisive basket.

“Our JV team is bigger than most varsity teams in town,” said Thornton, whose team has won 28 straight games. “Every chance we get, we want to go inside as much as possible.”

Lake Mead saw a 16-9 first-quarter lead evaporate when the Gaels opened the second quarter on a 13-0 run. Using its size as an advantage, the Gorman JV forced several key turnovers and hit three consecutive 3-pointers during the stretch.

“We had a big size advantage, so we had to pound it into the post and work in and out,” Noma’aea said. “That’s what we did, and it worked well for us.”

With the Gaels leading by as many as nine points in the third quarter, Yamzon took over for Lake Mead. The 5-7 senior, overcoming a defense that consistently double-teamed him, scored 15 points in the period en route to his game-high 37.

Though Lake Mead held a lead in the waning seconds, the Eagles couldn’t overcome the Gorman JV’s strong shooting. Noma’aea scored nine of his 24 points in the fourth quarter.

“He’s a very, very talented freshman,” Thornton said, adding that Noma’aea might be called up to the varsity level soon.

Yamzon shot 5 of 6 from 3-point range and 11 of 13 on free throws.

Whiteside, who had 16 points, notched two key blocks late in the fourth quarter.

“It’s always good to get a win, but it’s one of those games where you hate to see one team lose, because both teams played so hard and played so tough,” Thornton said. “Justin, he’s just one of the best players in the state. Regardless of his size.”

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