By Corbin Hosler
The Norman Transcript
NOBLE — The last time Noble won a playoff game, most of the players on the Bears’ hadn’t even been born.
The last playoff victory came in 1995, and the Bears’ goal all season was just to deliver another postseason win to their school. But thanks to a little bit of luck and plenty of clutch shots, this year’s squad has done much more than that, delivering an unexpected state tournament run.
Noble (14-13) will try to add to its storybook run with a 7 p.m. state quarterfinal contest on Thursday against Macarthur (17-8) at Skiatook. And like they have before every game in the last three weeks, senior Jared Palmer and the other three seniors on the team will huddle before the contest and remind each other it could be their last game.
“We’ve been telling each other, ‘If we’re going to go out, let’s make it good,’” Palmer said. “I’m just glad we get to go out and play another game.”
Palmer’s buzzer-beating heroics are one of the biggest reasons why the Bears were able to pull off several upsets on their way to the state tournament. But he’s not the only reason. Palmer’s overtime three-pointer against Coweta in the area consolation bracket earned the headlines and gave the Bears the unexpected win, but Devin Wheeler’s tough lay-up at the end of regulation put Noble into the extra period, and Wheeler was the one who found Palmer for the winning shot on a busted play.
“The play was to get it to Devin and let him make it happen,” Palmer said. “I never had any doubt that he would get up a shot. But when he fumbled it my instinct was just to move closer to him. He got it to me and I just put it up and it went in.”
The pair are two of the four senior starters on the team — the others being Wyatt Murphy and Austin Ladd — who have imagined making it to this stage since they arrived on the team four years ago. But that dream didn’t prepare them for the reality of advancing to the state’s biggest stage.
“It’s been surreal,” Palmer said. “Every high school kid dreams of making it to the state tournament, but we never really thought we’d be here. Our goal was just to get out of the first round; everything since then has been just trying to win the next game.”
Coach Kenny Smith knows it takes some degree of luck to advance to the quarterfinals and admits that the Bears have had their share of it. But the fifth-year coach said that pales in comparison with how hard he’s seen his players work.
“They deserve this,” he said. “They’ve worked so hard to get here, and it’s very rewarding as a coach to see it happen.”
The Bears don’t know how well they’ll fare against seventh-ranked Macarthur. But for Palmer it doesn’t matter whether they win or lose; he has something else to prove.
“Most people see us in state and probably think we just got lucky and we’re some kind of Cinderella story,” he said. “But win or lose, we want to prove to people that we deserve to be here.”
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