By Corbin Hosler
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — For the second straight day, Norman North was good enough to win at the Bishop McGuinness Classic. This time it was a 73-58 victory over Yukon on Friday night thanks to senior Kairo Rutledge’s best game of the season.
But, unlike Thursday’s win over Guthrie when North “sleepwalked” its way to a victory, coach Bryan Merrit said the Timberwolves came out focused and energetic on Friday.
“We were ready to play tonight, and we played a lot harder,” he said. “That was good to see.”
In Friday’s semifinal against Yukon (4-5), North (7-1) started off quickly before Yukon began to tighten things up. The undersized Millers hit enough shots to stick around and even briefly take the lead at 15-13 in the second quarter as the Timberwolves suffered through a stretch of poor ball movement and forced shots.
That was when Rutledge stepped up. The 6-5 senior used a series of feeds from his teammates to go to work on the inside, overpowering even the double-teams the Millers were throwing his way on his way to a career-high 19 points.
His emergence sparked the Timberwolves, who used Rutledge’s 13 first-half points to go on a 22-8 run and take control of the game with a 40-24 halftime lead.
“It feels pretty good to have a breakout game like tonight,” Rutledge said. “My teammates got me the ball and I caught a rhythm in the second quarter and just kept rolling. For me to have this kind of big game, it felt pretty good, and I hope it’s not my last.”
Kairo’s emergence was enough for North to take control. The T-Wolves led by double digits the rest of the way in what was a physical and at times sloppy contest. The teams combined to shoot 53 free throws in the game while spending nearly the entire game in the bonus.
While Rutledge led the way, the Timberwolves again had a balanced offensive attack. Ten T-Wolves got in the books, with Marcus Dickinson scoring 14 points and Lindy Waters adding nine points, six rebounds and five assists.
Senior Tanner Akers, who gave the Timberwolves fits with his ability to drive and finish through contact as he finished with 22 points, led Yukon as it tried to upset the ninth-ranked Timberwolves. The Millers were able to cut holes through the North defense but couldn’t slow the athletic T-Wolves on the break or keep North from dominating inside. North ended the game with just a 26-23 advantage on the boards but was in control of the paint on both ends for the entire game.
“Kairo was great for us tonight,” Merritt said. “I can’t say anything but good things about what he did. Our guards finally threw him the ball, and he made the most of it. It’s huge for him to have a night like tonight.”
Next up is a chance at the title against Class 5A’s top-ranked Irish, who handed Norman High a 51-29 loss on Thursday night. Merritt is familiar with Bishop McGuinness (10-3), having lost to them in the state semifinals a year ago while at Chickasha.
“I’m well-versed with what they do,” Merritt said. “We’re going to play them straight up and see if their big guy can score 30 on us.”
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