OKLAHOMA CITY — Call it a miracle shot. Call it karma for a uniquely-unfortunate start to the season, or just call it Cooper Clark stepping up for his team.
Whatever it’s called, it went in, and Clark’s huge shot followed John Michael Benardello’s own game-tying three in the finals seconds to deliver the Tigers their first win of the season, a 49-46 triumph over Edmond North.
For a team that entered Thursday’s Bishop McGuinness Classic having played just three games due to weather-related cancellations, the contest came against an Edmond North team that had played seven games. It was a trying stretch for the Tigers, who had been through 51 complete practices while playing just three games, but coach Matt Thornton said his team’s focus only got better as the weeks went by.
That paid off in a big way on Thursday, when NHS (1-3) came back from a nine-point first-half deficit to tie the game for the first time with three minutes left.
Then came the heroics.
Edmond North (2-6) took the lead when senior Mark Piatt secured an offensive rebound and found Kevin Galloway for a three that gave the Huskies a 46-43 lead. On NHS’ next possession, after working through their offense for a full 60 seconds, Benardello got open for a deep three that tied the contest with just 20 seconds to play.
The Tigers followed that up by forcing the Huskies into their 17th turnover of the night, setting up Clark for the game’s defining drive. On that play, Clark brought the ball up the court against light pressure and drove toward the right side with five seconds left. He made contact with the defender near the free throw line and threw the ball high into the air as the officials blew the whistle for the foul. With most fans watching the contact, it came as a surprise when the ball came straight down and went clearly through the net. Clark hit the free throw and after the Huskies turned it over on a desperation inbound play the game was over — and, for the first time this season — the Tigers victorious.
“It just feels good to finally get a win,” Clark said. “We ran an isolation play and I was just trying to get fouled. I felt the contact when I went up and I threw it up toward the rim and God answered the prayer.”
It capped an improbable comeback for the Tigers, who were down by as many as nine points in the first half as the Huskies sat in a zone and dared the Tigers to shoot. After a slow start, NHS did just that, draining five 3-pointers in the game after they recovered from the poor start. Clark led the way with 19 points and added seven rebounds as well.
“What I’m most proud of is how we stayed with the defense tonight,” Thornton said. “Over this long break, that’s what we’ve focused on, and I told them in the first half we weren’t going to shoot this badly for the entire game. We weren’t hitting shots, but we stayed focused on defense, defense, defense, and it paid off. It was a tremendous team effort tonight.”
With the win, the Tigers move on to a 6 p.m. semifinal game to face host Bishop McGuinness, which defeated Northwest Classen on Thursday.
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