NORMAN — With six games left on the schedule, Norman North coach Bryan Merritt is trying to shape his team to make a late-season push into the postseason. A major part of that strategy involves the pressure man-to-man defense the Timberwolves play, a defense that has forced opposing teams into numerous turnovers and fast-break opportunities for ninth-ranked North.
The one problem with that plan is that it also results in a higher than average number of fouls on the T-Wolves, and a higher than average number of free throws for their opponents.
It was an issue that reared its head again on Friday in North’s 63-52 victory over Del City. While the T-Wolves led the entire game and dominated the Eagles on the floor, Del City owned the free throw line. The Eagles shot 28 free throws to North’s 15, and made 20 of those while North made only 10. It was a 10-point differential that kept the game close in the final minutes and gave the Eagles an opportunity to pull the upset.
“If you look just at field goals made, it wasn’t even close,” said Merritt, whose team made 26 field goals to Del City’s 15. “The one thing we need to work on is cutting out some of the fouls.”
If North is to make the run to the state tournament the T-Wolves are hoping for, they’ll either need to avoid the foul trouble they’ve encountered at times this season, or they’ll have to continue to build depth. When point guard Marcus Dickinson has been out with foul trouble this year, the T-Wolves have been a decidedly worse team. His absence shifts the ball-handling duties to freshman Trae Young, moving him out of his natural position at shooting guard and eliminating some of the explosiveness the North offense possesses when Dickinson is at point and Young is standing ready on the wings.
Losing Dickinson also strips the T-Wolves of some of their late-game playmaking. Against Del City, the sophomore went out midway through the fourth quarter after picking up his first foul and watched from the bench as the Eagles stormed back. When he returned with just under three minutes to play he scored seven straight points for North to help secure the win.
While Friday’s win wasn’t as clean as some of the others North has become accustomed to this season, it was one Merritt said was important for his team.
“We weren’t shooting well tonight, but I’ll take an ugly win,” Merritt said after his team hit just one 3-pointer in the contest. “We went on the road and took care of business. We played tough tonight, and come the playoffs, those tough and ugly wins will take you a lot further than the pretty ones.”
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