DEL CITY — Shaking off the holiday rust isn’t easy. Neither is playing the entire game without one of your leading scorers and the last five minutes without another one.
All of the above happened to Norman High on Thursday, and the effect on the Tigers showed in a 59-52 loss to Putnam City North in the opening round of the Mid-Del Tournament.
For the first time this season, the Tigers started the game without Jay Finley, who is out six weeks with a small stress fracture in his lower back. Finley, who missed all of last year with an injury, found out about the injury last week but was cleared to play against Norman North because the risk of furthering injuring his back was low.
But he missed his first game on Thursday, a move that clearly hampered the NHS offense. And when Sam Blodgett went out with a nasty cut on his head with five minutes left in the game, the Tigers couldn’t put the ball in the basket or hold onto their slim lead. That allowed PC North, which entered the final frame down 10 points, to outscore NHS 23-6 in the fourth quarter.
“We were out of sync early on and we weren’t able to make enough plays down the stretch to win,” NHS coach Matt Thornton said. “They kept battling and found a way to get back in the game and we made some bad decisions down the stretch.”
After taking a 46-36 lead into the fourth, NHS would go scoreless for more than four minutes while PC North caught fire. Led by JR Simon’s 19 points, the Panthers hit several big threes to climb back into the game, and they took their first lead when Simon hit one to make it 52-51.
After tying it at 52, NHS got the ball back with just under two minutes to go and tried to hold it for an easy shot. But a wobbling lob pass across the court led to one of the Tigers’ 15 turnovers and gave PC North a 54-52 lead that the Panthers wouldn’t relinquish.
It was an ugly game from the start, with both teams coming out of the gates sloppy. After four minutes of play, there were nine combined turnovers and the score stood at 2-2. NHS woke up first, going on a 9-2 run to take a lead that would balloon to 16 at one point midway through the third quarter.
“I think the layoff contributed to that start,” Thornton said. “The conditioning looked off. We probably could have run a little harder in transition.”
But PC North fought back, and with 4:32 left in the game and NHS up 46-44 Blodgett got tangled up with a Panther player under the basket. The pair crashed to the floor and Blodgett hit the side of his head on the wood, producing a bloody cut that delayed the game for several minutes. It wasn’t immediately clear if Blodgett would be available to play today.
Corbin HoslerFollow me @Chosler88chosler@normantranscript.com