Normally steady Sparks saw open looks in transition turn into missed shots and Lowry’s posts seemed like monsters on the glass. The result was Lowry ran away to a 71-63 victory in a 3A State Tournament semifinal.
If not scared, Sparks looked at least nervous in the opening quarter and it resulted in a huge deficit. After an early 2-2 tie, Lowry scored 16 of the next 18 points to end the first quarter.
“Every time we touched the ball, we missed a shot,” Sparks coach Mike Jones said. “We didn’t get into an offense. It was all 1-on-1 before we could get into an offense. And we had our opportunities. They didn’t stop us from getting into our offense.”
Lowry scored the opening bucket of the second quarter and had a 20-4 edge less than nine minutes into the postseason tilt. That’s when Sparks began to gain its composure.
Sparks scored the next seven points to get back to within single digits, down 20-11. Lowry did push its lead back to 13, 35-22, after a Sterling Snow layup. But Sparks ended the second period with seven straight points. And after being down by 16 at one point, the SHS club faced just a six-point deficit at the intermission, 35-29.
“I’m very happy,” Lowry coach Chad Peters said. “And not to sound like sour grapes, but when you get out to 16-point lead, and take a few plays off then you’ve got a six-point lead. That’s frustrating.”
Unfortunately for Sparks fans, their Railroaders could never get closer than six in the second half. Lowry pushed its lead to 15, 51-36, midway through the third quarter, but Sparks responded and got back to within seven, 51-44.
Lowry put the game away with a 10-0 spurt, capped by back-to-back Sean Millikan layups, that left the Winnemucca school with a game-high advantage of 17 points, 61-44.
Sparks got a 3-pointer from reserve Doug Chinchella with nine seconds remaining in the contest. That got the Railroaders again within six, 69-63, but it proved far too little too late.
“I bet we missed eight layups,” Jones said. “Whether it was their size, like we’re not used to finishing over their size, or whatever it was, we didn’t put the ball in the hole. We got easy chances.”
Sparks was ultimately done in by its lackluster start and the poor shooting night. The Railroaders got up 72 shots, 22 more than Lowry, but converted only 26 (36 percent) of those. Meanwhile, Lowry was busy burying a healthy 54 percent of its looks, 27-50.
Lowry also took advantage of the charity stripe. The Buckaroos made good on 15-of-21 at the foul line while Sparks was limited to 6-8.
“I thought Sparks played well,” Peters said. “Give coach Jones and coach Allen credit. They came out, played half-court man, no gimmicks and just got after us. We did some good things.”
Lowry’s impressive shooting effort was due largely to its size advantage. Buckaroos posts Will Thacker and Millikan both knocked down 6-of-10 from the field and scored 14 and 12 points respectively.
“We didn’t finish,” Sparks senior forward Martin Jordan said. “We missed a lot of easy shots and that really hurt us. We defended pretty well but in the second half their big guys did hurt us.”
Millikan and Thacker also pulled down 10 and nine rebounds in helping the Bucks to a 43-32 rebounding advantage.
The Railroaders did their best to stay in contention by forcing 22 Buckaroos turnovers while committing just 13 of their own.
Jordan threw in 22 points for Sparks but was the lone Railroaders’ player to score in double figures. Henry Banks and Xavier Rodriguez both chipped in nine points in defeat.
Sparks was playing without athletic sophomore forward Darius Devine, who did not make the trip to southern Nevada after suffering a death in his family.
“It hurt us,” Jones said. “It hurt us on the glass. We’d played a couple games without him where it didn’t hurt us, but it hurt us today against a good team like that.”