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April 6, 2018

PHOENIX — The Majok Deng-Evan Nelson show has taken about a dozen games to really make an impact, and it has Salpointe Catholic — a No. 11 seed — in the state championship game.

“Now you just have to believe in each other, pick each other up and trust that you are going to make it,” Deng said. “We’re there now. We just have to get the W.”

Deng and Nelson combined for 64 points, including a banked 3-pointer and clutch free throws in overtime, to lift the Lancers (15-15) into Saturday’s Class 4A state championship game after an 80-75 win over second-seeded Buckeye (24-5).

“I really needed this guy from the beginning,” Deng said of Nelson. “When I didn’t have him, I couldn’t go anywhere. Just having him now means a lot.”

Salpointe faces either No. 4 Phoenix Moon Valley or No. 1 Phoenix Shadow Mountain in the Tucson school’s fourth appearance in the state final. The Lancers will be looking for their first state basketball championship.

“We were 3-14 at one time (this season),” said Salpointe coach Jim Reynolds. “So I don’t feel like we are afraid of tomorrow no matter what happens.”

In overtime, Deng hit a banked 3-pointer right in front of the Salpointe bench with 1:53 left and then hit the free throw giving the Lancers a 73-71 lead. They never gave up the advantage after that. Buckeye’s leading scorer, Otis Frazier (26 points), threw the ball away on the baseline in the next possession and Buckeye missed a free throw that would have tied it with 1:01 left.

“Just trust our guys, move the ball, we know we have guys who can make plays, make free throws, so that is all that goes through our mind,” said Nelson of the overtime psyche. ​Nelson missed a free throw in the final minute of regulation and two more with 3:30 left in overtime.

But Deng hit two foul shots with a minute left in the extra period. Seven seconds later, Ryan Grabosch tied up Buckeye’s Frazier underneath the basket, and Salpointe got the ball back. The Lancers ended up scoring with Deng driving on the left side for a layup and making a subsequent free throw.

“We tried to not turn the ball over, keep the court spaced, take our time on offense and try to make as many open shots as we can hit,” Nelson said.

Friday’s semifinal ended up in an extra period after Nelson missed the second of two free throws with 24 seconds left and Buckeye failed to convert after holding for the last shot.
Deng had 33 points, 12 rebounds and hit six 3-pointers, while Nelson added 31 points, 12 boards, three assists, two blocks and a steal.

Salpointe has won 10 in a row and 12 of the last 13, all since Nelson became eligible Jan. 12.

“I’m not sure when we got to the end of the year we were an 11 seed, on paper, when you look at who we had,” Reynolds said. “I think more of a top 8 seed, obviously done well in close games.”
The Lancers lost to top-seed Phoenix Shadow Mountain 81-48 in the 4A title game a year ago.