ELKO – After pulling off the five-peat of Division I-A North boys basketball with a 45-43 barn-burner victory Saturday over South Tahoe in the regional final, the Elko Indians’ reward is a familiar foe Friday in the state semifinal – the Clark Chargers.
Clark was ranked No.1 in the I-A South regional tournament with a league record of 14-0, but the Chargers lost to the Desert Pines Jaguars in the final, 47-42. Clark was given the No. 2 seed of the state tourney, pitting the Chargers against the Indians.
Not only were the Chargers the favorite, Clark is also the reigning, defending and back-to-back state champion.
The Chargers would have won three-consecutive state crowns had it not been for the Jaguars, who pulled off a two-point, 59-57 victory over Clark in the 2013 state championship.
In the 2013 state semifinal, the Chargers narrowly avoided the Indians, winning 45-40.
The teams met again in the 2014 state championship, following a dominant Elko performance in the semifinal, cruising past Desert Pines with a 63-47 victory.
The second meeting between Clark and in the state final did not go as well for the Tribe, as the Indians struggled to score the basketball – netting just 25 points, 17 coming in the first half.
Elko scored just five points in the first period and three in the second.
The Indians cannot afford to get off to such a start the third time around.
Charger senior Darius Jackson, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard recruit, can play any position on the floor at the high school level.
Jackson was named the I-A South MVP of the Sunset League, averaging 13 points, five rebounds and two steals.
His athleticism was on full display during the Chargers’ 2015 state championship, 62-46 victory over Desert Pines, grabbing rebounds all over the place – many from no-business angles and positions.
Clark does not have players who score in huge bunches; the Chargers rack up 60 points per game by committee.
Senior Keyshaun Webb is the only Charger other than Jackson to score in double digits – averaging 10 points per contest – but Clark has eight players average five or more points. Everybody scores.
“They always have five guys on the floor who can take you to the hole, so we can’t really cheat off anyone,” said Elko coach Chris Klekas. “We have to slow them down and limit them to one shot.”
The Indians enter the game with the ultimate equalizer, junior point guard Eric Klekas, who can flat-out stroke the basketball.
Eric Klekas easily finished as the I-A North scoring leader – dropping 23 points per game and burying 96 threes along the way – shooting a 91-percent clip from the free throw line on 120 attempts, missing just 11 shots from the charity stripe all year.
He also passes the ball very well, leading the Indians with four assists per game – and he can take it away from the opponent, averaging a team-high three steals.
For a guard, he rebounds the ball remarkably well – snagging more than six boards per game, second on the team.
Two other Elko players also score in double digits, junior Kyrin Allen at 11 points per game and senior Dustin Baum with 10 per contest.
The incredibly athletic Allen leads the Indians with 7.1 rebounds per game. He also collects two steals and swats a team-high one block.
Baum grabs three rebounds and dishes two assists per contest.
Sophomore Jeron Yopps has stepped up big in crucial moments for Elko, scoring six points and grabbing six rebounds per game. His layup in the I-A North regional final with two seconds remaining proved to be the difference maker for the Indians.
While Elko has three players in double digits compared to Clark’s two, the Indians only have four players who score more than five points per game – while the Chargers have eight.
The Indians hold a slight advantage on the scoreboard – scoring 61 points per game to the Chargers’ 60 – but the approaches are different, and Clark faces top-notch athleticism against the other Las Vegas schools.
The Chargers play with a relatively young starting five, which includes two seniors, two sophomores and a freshman.
The status of the game is unknown for Elko junior Angelo Jones, who has missed the last seven games with a bad ankle sprain. Jones’ stellar, on-ball defense could be crucial for the Indians as they attempt to slow down one of the best teams in the I-A North and all of the state.
“We have our work cut out for us. Clark is a very good team, and they are well-coached. We have to make shots, defend and rebound,” said coach Klekas. “Both Clark and Desert Pines are top-five teams out of all the divisions in the state.”
The Indians will look to extract some payback against the Chargers in the I-A boys basketball semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday at Reno High School.
If Elko wins, they would face the winner of the other semifinal between South No. 1 Desert Pines and North No. 2 South Tahoe, which ended Lowry’s run of seven-consecutive trips to the state tournament in the I-A North regional semifinal.
The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) I-A boys basketball state championship will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.