SAPULPA — Before Thursday’s Class 5A quarterfinal game, Noble senior Jared Palmer said that he wanted to prove that they belonged on the state tournament stage.
Against No. 7 Lawton MacArthur, the Bears certainly did that. They took a 24-23 lead into halftime and kept pace for most of the game with the high-flying Highlanders. But a spate of turnovers in the second half proved to be the Bears’ undoing, as MacArthur pulled away for a 55-44 win, ending what Palmer had called the Bears’ “Cinderella” run to the state tournament.
Noble (14-14) had success in the first half penetrating the unforgiving Highlander press and turned it over just two times in the first quarter. But when MacArthur (18-8) stepped up the pressure in the second half the Bears were unable to duplicate that success, and they finished with 17 turnovers, most of which led to easy baskets for the Highlanders.
The game turned in the third quarter, when MacArthur upped the pressure and forced Noble into long passes. The Highlanders outscored the Bears 15-3 in the quarter, in the process using an 11-0 run to turn a 26-23 deficit into a commanding 34-26 lead. That margin grew to 17 points before Noble began to cut into it. The Bears got within 8 points in the final minute, but that was as close as they could get.
“Their defense was really good in the second half,” Noble coach Kenny Smith said. “We knew it was coming and we were as ready as we could be. They’re athletic, and you can only prepare so much with your own players running it. They cranked up their defense in the second half and we just didn’t have the guns.”
Devin Wheeler led Noble with 19 points and 6 rebounds, while Leland Palmer added 13 for the Bears. MacArthur was led by Trace Cook, who finished with 17 points. Both teams found success at the free throw line, with Noble hitting 9 of its 12 attempts. But MacArthur was even better, missing just four of its 19 and closing the game out by hitting seven of its last eight.
Advancing to the state quarterfinals this year was an unprecedented accomplish for Noble, a program that hadn’t even won a playoff game since 1995. Smith was complimentary of the four seniors on the team — Palmer, Wheeler, Wyatt Murphy, and Austin Ladd — who brought the program to new heights.
“They just don’t quit working,” he said. “We may not have the greatest athletes, but we’re able to play with people because they work so hard. It sucks now, but we had a good season and I think we’ll be able to look back and see that. It gives these younger kids who didn’t even know what it was like to win a playoff game goals to set for themselves.”
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