MIDWEST CITY — Norman High coach Nichole Copeland asked her team to focus on improving its rebounding before Saturday’s contest against Millwood.
The Tigers heard her. Led by Bethany Franks’ 13 boards, they outrebounded a bigger Millwood team 26-22, and thanks to that and some clutch late-game execution, defeated Class 2A’s No. 1 team 47-44.
NHS jumped out early against Millwood only to see the Falcons come roaring back. But in a sign of a maturing team, the Tigers weathered the storm in the second and never gave up the lead, including when Millwood cut the lead to one point with seven seconds left. The Tigers, who had trouble against the Falcon press earlier in the game, executed their inbounds play and got the ball to senior Taylor Ely, who knocked down a pair of free throws to ice the game for NHS.
More importantly, the Tigers showed that they’re finally turning the corner mentally, which is what Copeland was most proud of after the victory.
“We weren’t perfect, but we made the plays we needed to make, and at the end there we make that one play and get the ball into our best free throw shooter,” she said. “That’s huge for this team. We found a way to get two wins this weekend, and beat two ranked teams.”
Against the Falcons (11-4), NHS got to the line early and often. Franks and Ely had all 15 of NHS’ points after one quarter, with eight of those coming at the free throw line. The Tigers made it to the charity stripe 24 times in the game and made 17 of them, a critical component in their victory.
Ely led NHS with 23 points in an efficient performance, while Franks — who along with Ely made the all-tournament team — added 13 points to go along with her 13 rebounds. Chandler Coale chipped in five points and four assists.
The Tigers never lost the lead, but Millwood cut it to one possession multiple times in the second half. But NHS took control early in the fourth quarter with its defense, holding Millwood scoreless for more than four minutes while the Tigers built the lead they would hang onto for the win.
For Copeland, it was another sign of the progress her team has made in the last month. Starting three freshmen and playing five, the Tigers (5-11) put together their most impressive weekend of the season in upsetting Class 6A’s No. 15 Putnam City and defeating Millwood while also taking No. 6 Bartlesville down to the final shot.
“We’re telling them to just stay hungry for winning, and they’re doing that,” she said. “We played three complete games this weekend because we stayed hungry to win every possession, and that wins games.”
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