By Corbin Hosler
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — Norman High entered the Bishop McGuinness Classic looking to gain some experience as a team.
After three games, including a barnburner Saturday night against Yukon, the Tigers may have come out of the tournament weekend a veteran team.
NHS fought with the Millers in a back-and-forth third-place game on Saturday and emerged victorious after overcoming a second-half deficit to take control in the game’s final minutes and finish off the 66-62 win with poise. The Tigers hit seven of their final nine free throws to ice the game after building a six-point lead with 90 seconds left.
“It was huge for us to finish the game like that,” coach Matt Thornton said. “They did a great job mentally bouncing back from yesterday and we did a much better job hitting shots and taking care of the ball. We hit our free throws down the stretch, got the blockouts we needed and made the plays we needed to.”
Many of those plays came thanks to Cooper Clark, who overcame one of his worst games of the season in Friday’s loss to Bishop McGuinness by playing one of his best on Saturday. He scored his first points just 30 seconds into the game, and built from there, finishing with 21 points and seven rebounds.
It was a game of runs form the start. Yukon jumped out to a 16-11 lead after the first quarter before the Tigers went on a 15-4 run to take a six-point lead before watching the Millers respond in kind and head into the locker room with a 30-28 lead at the break.
Yukon (4-6) extended that lead even more in the second half. Thanks to a hot start from center Tucker Doyle, who finished with 23 and seven rebounds while dominating the Tigers (2-4) inside, the Millers built the lead to 39-31.
But the Tigers, who folded in the same situation against Bishop McGuinness on Friday, turned things around against Yukon. They fought back and finally took the lead at 51-49 in the fourth quarter on a pair of free throws by John Michael Benardello. They then forced a Miller turnover and Benardello knocked down a three to put NHS on top for good.
It was an important bounce-back game for NHS, and one Thornton said his team needed after entering the tournament weekend winless.
“Your goal when you go to any tournament is to win two games, and maybe think about a third one,” Thornton said. “That’s the goal, and we did that this weekend. This was huge for us. I feel like what we can take away from this is that we’ve gotten a little better every time we’ve taken the floor. We haven’t taken any steps back.”
Girls, Lawton Eisenhower 41, Norman High 38: Norman High took another step forward Saturday night, cleaning up the late-game mistakes that cost them on Thursday, but the Tigers still fell by three points to Lawton Eisenhower in Saturday’s game at the Westmoore tournament.
After losing to a buzzer-beater Thursday on a mental error, the Tigers came up with the stop they needed on Saturday to force overtime. But the Tigers’ shot to take the lead rolled out, and Lawton Eisenhower hit two free throws and held on for the win. It was the second game of the weekend the Tigers lost by one possession, an experience coach Nichole Copeland said they could learn from.
“The effort was there, and we executed everything we needed to, but we just couldn’t get the layups or the rebounds we needed,” she said. “Some of the breakdowns we had earlier in the year, that didn’t happen tonight. The end result is the same, and that’s hard to swallow sometimes, but we’re making progress. We’re getting better, and if we can stay together and continue to play together as a team we’re going to get there.”
Tourney champs: Moore won the Chickasha Invitational by beating Lawton High 55-44. Dante Butler lead the Lions with 16 points, while Diontre Cutliff added 16.
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