LAS VEGAS -- In a scene reminiscent of the glory days of UNLV basketball when iconic coach Jerry Tarkanian led the Runnin' Rebels to three NCAA Final Fours between 1987 and 1991, basketball was the talk of Sin City on Saturday.
It wasn't a college game, however, that had the city buzzing. The excitement surrounded a contest dubbed the Big City Showdown Challenge between POWERADE FAB 50 No. 16 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) and No. 3 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.).
In front of a standing-room-only crowd at Cox Pavilion for a game that sold out two days after tickets went on sale, Findlay Prep used an 18-1 second-half run to spark its 73-61 victory.
Dominic Artis and Nigel Williams-Goss led the way for Findlay Prep, scoring 21 points apiece and making big plays seemingly every time Bishop Gorman made a push. Artis also had seven assists and two steals to pace the victors.
"Artis is just comfortable out there," said Findlay Prep head coach Michael Peck. "It took him a while to get used to playing and being effective in our system. He's now comfortable and confident. He may go all 32 minutes the rest of the way for us."
Findlay Prep took control early after both teams started the contest tight. A baseline jumper by Bishop Gorman's Shabazz Muhammad ended a 16-5 run by Findlay Prep and made the score 28-22 midway through the second quarter. Bishop Gorman (14-4) eventually cut its deficit to two points, but Findlay Prep's Amedeo Della Valle hit a 3-pointer to give Findlay Prep (19-1) a 33-28 lead with with 20 seconds remaining in the half.
That's when Bishop Gorman's Rashad Muhammad (nine points) hit a 3-pointer and Ben Carter followed by connecting on a 70-foot heave at the halftime buzzer to give Bishop Gorman a 34-33 lead and all the momentum heading into intermission.
But the momentum didn't last.
Findlay Prep ended the third quarter with a 13-0 run to take a 53-39 lead heading into the fourth, and the Pilots eventually grew their lead to 17 points, 58-41, in the final quarter. Bishop Gorman competed until the end and were able to cut the deficit to nine, 66-57, on a put-back layup by Shabazz Muhammad with 2:17 remaining, but the Gaels never truly threatened to complete the comeback.
Shabazz Muhammad, the No. 1 player in the ESPNU 100 and frontrunner for ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA honors, was coming off a 37-point performance five days ago in a victory over DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.). In this game, however, he struggled from the field (9-of-25) and finished with 19 points. He also had a team-high nine rebounds.
"I take (guarding Shabazz Muhammad) personal," said Findlay Prep's Winston Shepard, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds and did a good job defensively on Gorman's star. "I've been playing against him a long time and I'm a good player, too."
Findlay Prep was coming off a victory over Simeon (Chicago), the preseason No. 1 team in the POWERADE FAB 50, in a game the Pilots played without the services of Anthony Bennett, the No. 7 prospect in the ESPNU 100.
Making Findlay Prep's victory over Bishop Gorman even more impressive was Bennett did not play in this game, either. On top of that, Findlay Prep forward Brandon Ashley, No. 4 in the ESPNU 100, was in early foul trouble and finished with three points, but had a big impact in the third quarter.
"In the first minutes of the third quarter, Brandon gave us exactly what we needed -- a defensive presence," Peck said. "That's how we maintained our lead."
With its victory Saturday, Findlay Prep will now be seriously considered for the No. 2 spot in next week's POWERADE FAB 50. The Pilots have a tremendous amount of firepower on their roster and find ways to win with different contributors.
Currently, they trail unbeaten Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) and two-loss Grace Prep (Arlington, Texas) in the national rankings.
"When their guards play well, they are the best team in high school basketball," said ESPN director of basketball recruiting Paul Biancardi.
Findlay Prep is now 4-0 all time against Bishop Gorman. The Pilots have never lost to an NIAA school.