Nico Mannion saw some space, drove down the middle of the lane and went up.
The 6-foot-3 senior hammered down a thunderous dunk that gave Phoenix Pinnacle a one-point lead midway through the the third quarter.
That was the lift the Pioneers needed to finally shake Scottsdale Chaparral in what was a nip-and-tuck game, as Mannion finished with 34 points, eight rebounds, six assists and seven steals in an 83-64 rout before a crowd of about 12,000 Tuesday night at ASU’s Wells Fargo Arena.
Pinnacle, making its fourth state final appearance since 2013, made it back-to-back for its first two state championships.
“We were settling a lot, so Coach (Charlie Wilde) told us to take it to the rim,” Mannion said. “I took a dribble to the right and there was nobody there, so I just went up and took it.
“Once I got the edge, I knew I wanted to dunk it. I wanted some energy. I wasn’t making my shots.”
— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) February 27, 2019
Mannion was finding all sorts of ways to spark his team in his final high school game.
In the beginning, it was his defense that led to offense. He had 11 of his team’s 13 first-quarter points, some of those ignited by steals.
He drew a foul in the last two seconds of the half from the arc that put him on the line. He made 2 of the 3.
Then, in the second half, it was a little bit of everything that caused a media cluster at the end of the game with raised iPhones and nonstop interviews.
Mannion cut off the last piece of net in the end.
What legacy has he left on high school basketball in Arizona?
“That’s not for me to speak of,” he said. “I’m just glad I could come out here and do this with my guys.”
Mannion had lots of help.
With senior guard Trent Brown cold in the first half, before heating up and finishing with 13 points, seven assists and five steals, junior guard Marcus Libman was the X-factor.
He made a big 3 at the end of the third quarter that gave Pinnacle a 57-51 lead. Libman had 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 5 of 10 3-pointers.
“Next man up,” Libman said. “I’ve got to step up and make those 3s.”
Mannion and his teammates completely took over the final eight minutes, outscoring the Firebirds 26-13. Brown drained a 3 and fed Keegan Schenk for an easy basket. Then Brown scored on a drive and Mannion scored on a layup as he was fouled. Finally, Brown converted a three-point play with 1:50 left, and it was over.
Chaparral was led by junior guard Alem Huseinovic with 18 points and Jorden Josephs with 13 and Alec Bryan with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“What can you say?” Wilde said. “I couldn’t say more nice things about (Mannion), whether it’s in practice, in games, the way he represents us all over the world. Even my juniors and former players. This is important for us.”
Mannion, signed with Arizona, even made a shoe change at halftime, changing out of pink shoes to white with Carolina blue soles.
Was that a statement?
“No, I’m still a Wildcat,” Mannion said. “I changed at halftime. They were hurting my feet a little bit.”