By Corbin Hosler
The Norman Transcript
EDMOND — When Norman High and Moore met earlier this season, the Lions coasted to a pair of easy wins over the Tigers.
The two teams met for a third time on Friday, with much higher stakes. And it was anything but easy in the first round of the area playoffs. But after withstanding an early barrage from NHS, Moore was able to come back and then hang on for a 57-50 victory.
The win eliminates NHS from the Class 6A playoffs, and propels Moore into a 6:30 p.m. game against Mustang tonight in Choctaw that will determine which team advances to next week’s state tournament.
Early on, it didn’t look like the Lions would have that opportunity. NHS was the surprise team of the playoffs after upsetting No. 7 Edmond Santa Fe in the opening round, and the Tigers surprised the Lions early. Behind several easy transition baskets and a stifling defense, NHS built a 17-11 lead after one quarter and was able to extend it to 22-13 midway through the second.
That was when Moore struck back. Even without starter Jaylon Wilson, who went down with a severe knee injury in the first half and didn’t return, the Lions went on a 10-0 run in the second quarter to eliminate the Tigers’ lead and take control of the game.
It was a familiar script for NHS, which faced the same scenario against Edmond Santa Fe last week. In that contest the Tigers were able to hold their own and eventually pull away for the upset, but the Lions made sure they didn’t get the chance on Friday. Led by 16 points from both Charles Watkins and Brayden Powell, who also added 10 rebounds, Moore built a double-digit lead late in the fourth quarter. A furious comeback by NHS cut into that, but the Tigers were unable to get any closer than six points in the final minute.
“We came in with a really good gameplan, but they did a good job adjusting and we were slow to handle that,” NHS coach Matt Thornton said. “We also started missing some shots. But I’m proud we fought back and got it to a two-possession game. This team didn’t quit, just like they didn’t quit all season.”
Senior John Michael Benardello led NHS with 17 points, while junior Cooper Clark, who was flanked all night by Moore’s Eric Blankenship, had 13 while struggling from the field. He also contributed seven points and five assists.
NHS finishes its year 5-20, a record that would lead many people to label the season a disappointment. But Thornton doesn’t see it that way. Not only did the Tigers — led by seniors Michael Patterson, Desmond Oguno, Pablo Fisher, Michael Kish, John Michael Benardello, Julian Perriott, Blake Hardman, and Zach Hogue — advance further into the playoffs than anyone expected by shocking the state with their win over Edmond Santa Fe, but they struggled through the ups and downs of the year without ever giving up on the season.
“These seniors, they’re great character kids,” Thornton said. “You never had to worry about them doing what they were supposed to do. A lot of people focus on the wins and losses, but the most important thing is to help them grow into young men, and I’m proud that we did that.”
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