DURANT — About a dozen Norman High students made the nearly-three hour drive to Durant to watch NHS take on Westmoore in the championship game of the Durant Lion Classic.
And the Tigers didn’t let them down. Nor did senior Jay Finley, who took the Tigers on his back by scoring eight straight points in overtime to key a wild comeback victory over the Jaguars.
It was a fantasy ending for Finley, who missed open layups both toward the end of regulation and in the extra period that would have given the Tigers the lead. Instead, Westmoore had a chance at a game-winner in regulation, which they missed, and took an early lead in overtime.
But, down 54-52 with a little over three minutes left in overtime, Finley began to take over.
It started innocuously when he hit one of two free throws, and things still looked bleak for NHS when Westmoore took a 57-53 lead with a minute left. On the other end, Finley answered with a midrange jumper. Then, after Dillion Thompson hit one of two free throws, Finley took his man off the dribble and calmly nailed a three-pointer to tie it with 26 seconds left. With both teams out of timeouts, Westmoore ran into a Tiger trap near midcourt and turned the ball over for the 13th time.
That set up Finley’s dramatic game winner, a running 15-footer along the baseline, that swished cleanly through the net as the clock ran out.
“I knew they couldn’t guard me off the dribble,” he said. “I was able to pull up and knock it down.”
As the minutes wore down, the missed layups were on Finley’s mind the entire time.
“I thought, ‘I better not lose it for us,’” he said. “I was going to outwork everybody, and as long as I outworked my man and everybody outworked theirs, we were going to win.”
Both teams made critical mistakes down the stretch. The Jaguars missed three of their last seven free throws and turned the ball over at the end of regulation and the overtime period, while the Tigers missed three short shots and turned it over once themselves.
“You only get so many opportunities in a game, and it’s frustrating when you give away those easy ones,” coach Matt Thornton said. “But they didn’t hang their heads. They fought through it and made the big plays when we needed them. Jay’s one of those guys who can go off at any time.”
Finley finished with 20 points, six rebounds and four assists while being named tournament MVP. Cooper Clark added 19 for the Tigers, while Trey Ayala had 19 points and five boards for Westmoore, and Dillion Thompson added 19 as well.
After a back-and-forth first half, NHS built a 10-point lead in the third quarter, only to see the Jags storm back as center Sam Blodgett was forced to sit much of the second half with foul trouble and fouled out midway through the fourth. His counterpart from Westmoore, Tripp Fuller, took advantage of his absence, scoring 13 points and eight rebounds before himself fouling out late in the game.
“Sam’s kind of that glue that keeps us going,” Thornton said. “It hurts us when he’s out, but everyone stepped up. We played a lot of guys tonight, and this was a total team effort.”
Corbin HoslerFollow me @Chosler88chosler@normantranscript.com