OKLAHOMA CITY — Like it has all year, Norman North stayed in the game the entire way. But that wasn’t enough against Putnam City West on Friday in the Class 6A playoff opener. Unlike in past games, the T-Wolves weren’t able to come up with that one run that put them in control, and the up-tempo Patriots outpaced North in a tight 67-64 victory.
Putnam City West started hot, with Omega Harris nailing a deep three just 5 seconds into the game. It set the tone for a fast-paced and physical game, a style that left coaches frustrated and North in foul trouble that would plague the Timberwolves throughout the contest.
North never led, but stayed within a few possessions throughout. Twice in the second half the Timberwolves cut the deficit to three points, including with just under two seconds left. And after Putnam City West missed two free throws, they even had a desperation chance to tie it, but Kairo Rutledge’s three-quarters-court shot came after the buzzer and bounced off the rim.
“We played a little flustered, a little rushed,” coach Butch Roberts said. “The moment was maybe a little too big. And we fouled too much. The foul trouble made the rotation a little less comfortable than usual.”
At times North outplayed the Patriots, but the T-Wolves could never hit the tying shot or get a key defensive stop when they needed it. Turnovers and mental breakdowns by North played a role in that. The Timberwolves blew coverage on several possessions and gave up offensive rebounds on others while turning it over 14 times.
The other reason was Putnam City West’s Tyson Jolly, who beat North on the offensive glass all night. The sophomore finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, almost all of which came on putbacks in the paint, including a thunderous follow-up dunk in the first half that kicked off a Patriot run and left North trailing 35-26 at halftime.
Jolly’s play overshadowed several T-Wolves who played exceptionally. Sophomore Najii Brown played his best game of the season, contributing 14 points for North. Rutledge added 11 points and nine boards for North, though the Patriots earned a 30-27 edge on the glass.
“I’m proud of the way we battled back and played through some adversity there in the fourth,” Roberts said. “We got down but our guys never gave up.”
North ends its season 11-13, and will lose a pair of seniors from this year’s squad. Aaron Goff and Blake Knighton will graduate, leaving a young North roster with four starters entering next year.
“I told those guys on senior night that if we start to get some more wins here in the next few years, which I’m confident we will, that they are a big part of that even though they won’t be here,” Roberts said. “They bridged a gap between a team that was maybe a little immature last year and this year’s group, and they are a big part of whatever we do in the future.”
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