SHAWNEE — Marcus Dickinson, Norman North’s super sophomore, or one of them, said, “We didn’t want to lose.”
That’s one way to put it, but more was afoot than that Friday night at the Shawnee Invitational, where the Timberwolves eliminated Class 5A No. 6 El Reno by a 62-53 count to earn their way into tonight’s 8:30 p.m. championship game at Shawnee High School.
The T-Wolves were down 33-30 at the half and coach Bryan Merritt “was the most frustrated I’ve ever been coaching these guys.”
In short, eighth-ranked North (10-4) could score, but couldn’t stop the Indians from scoring. And the T-Wolves weren’t playing smart, together or with a great deal of purpose.
Also, their coach had had it; so much so, he wasn’t sure if he could put it into words the team might respond to. But who knew, he wouldn’t have to.
“Usually, it’s me giving them a lot of intensity, yelling, you know what I mean,” Merritt said, “and I was happy for once it was them because I was about done.”
If the T-Wolves screamed at each other, they didn’t say. If they pounded on lockers, they didn’t say.
What did they say?
“We wanted a good spot in the playoffs, so we wanted to come out and play good defense,” Dickinson said. “We lost the championship at McGuinness, so we wanted to prove a point and get to the championship tomorrow.”
Of course, “tomorrow” is now today and the T-Wolves have their shot.
They’ll have it because what Dickinson said — and whatever else was said — sunk in well enough to make sure this wasn’t another narrow defeat, the way all of North’s defeats have been this season.
Freshman guard Trae Young came out of the half and hit a 3 that tied it up. After Lindy Waters gave North a two-point lead, Christian Wassana, with range beginning in the parking lot, hit a long 3 that put the Indians back on top.
North took back the lead on a 3-pointer from Malcolm Carter. Justin Brown tied it at the other end. Then came a basket from Kairo Rutledge and the T-Wolves suffered no more lead changes nor ties from the Indians (11-4).
Rutledge’s basket was the beginning of a 10-0 run to end the third quarter and a 14-0 run into the fourth.
“We decided, this time, we can’t give up a lead,” Rutledge said. “Just keep our heads, play as a team, move the ball and, when they foul us, hit our free throws.”
That’s pretty much what happened.
Because the T-Wolves moved the ball, their scoring was as balanced as it’s ever been.
Dickinson led with 14 points, followed by Young with 12, followed by Rutledge with 10 and six rebounds, followed by Waters with eight, nine rebounds and four assists.
Not only did North play defense after the half, but it outrebounded the Indians 14-3 over the final two quarters, even without the big body of power forward Payton Prince, who missed the game to be on football recruiting trip.
“When we play good defense, we’re really good,” Merritt said. “But when we just go through the motions, we’re just a little above average.”
For at least 16 minutes Friday night, the T-Wolves were really good. And their coach hardly had to say a thing.
Follow me @clayhorning
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