MIDWEST CITY — Norman High coach Matt Thornton’s goal at every tournament he takes his team to is to win two games on the weekend, wherever those wins come from.
Thanks to a dominating effort by the Tigers in a 67-35 victory over McAlester in the second round of the Carl Albert Titan Classic on Friday, NHS will have that chance.
Cooper Clark led NHS to its third win of the season with 20 points, but he was just the leader of a balanced effort that saw the Tigers take control of the game early thanks to a suffocating defense. They led 19-8 after one quarter and 33-19 at the break.
“Cooper’s really coming around, and when he plays well it makes everyone around him better,” Thornton said. “We did a really good job offensively tonight as a team.”
Ten Tiger players scored in the rout, but more importantly NHS (3-8) had five players score at least five points. It was a balanced attack that has become the Tigers’ calling card in games they play well. In addition to Clark’s 20 points, senior guard John Michael Benardello added 17 points and Desmond Oguno chipped in eight.
On Friday, that balance was enough to give them their third win of the season and first in nearly two weeks after suffering through several close defeats in a brutal stretch of the schedule. With the win, NHS advances to the consolation final at 2:30 p.m. against Star Spencer, which narrowly defeated Branson, Mo. on Friday.
While the Tigers’ balanced offense paced them, it was their defense that closed out the game. They entered the second half and held McAlester to its lowest-scoring quarter in the third, allowing the Buffaloes just seven points while they turned their modest lead into a rout.
“Defensively we were able to give them some problems,” Thornton said. “Even though we lost on Thursday, I thought we did a lot of things well, and we improved on that today.”
After entering the holiday break having played just three games and losing them all, the Tigers have shown steady improvement since then, something that showed in Thursday’s loss as well as Friday’s win. The Tigers will now try to accomplish their goal of winning two games, and will have a trophy to take home if they do.
“You always want to play for a trophy, and you want it to be that championship one, but hardware is hardware,” Thornton said. “We’ve put ourselves in that position, and we’ve been getting better every game. We just have to continue to do that.”
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