NORMAN — While leading scorer Taylor Ely spent three weeks on the sideline with a badly sprained ankle, Norman High struggled at first to replace her offensive production. The Tigers lost three straight games at the Westmoore tournament two weeks ago with the final loss coming to the Jags 43-40, primarily because they were having a hard time finding points.
But it was a problem the Tigers seemed to figure out in last Friday’s game against Moore. In that contest, NHS had three players score in double figures, with Albany Anderson leading the way with 18, Bethany Cox scoring 17 and Erica Mitchell chipping in 11. The Tigers scored 51 points in that game and seemed to turn the corner on the offensive end.
Ely made a successful return to the court on Tuesday and led NHS with 17 points in a 43-38 victory over Westmoore in the rematch. She started the game hot but cooled off as it wore on, most likely due to an ankle that is still healing. But, even though she had a noticeable limp after the game, she hit enough big shots down the stretch to propel NHS to victory.
“It felt great to be back out there, and once the adrenaline got going I felt fine,” Ely said after the game. “But it’s a little sore right now.”
Coach Nichole Copeland plans on being careful with Ely’s return to the lineup. In addition to evaluating how her ankle responds to a busy week of basketball, the second-year coach faces another challenge heading into today’s 11:30 a.m. matchup with Putnam City at the Carl Albert tournament — reintegrating Ely into the offense.
It’s not an easy task. Ely’s return to the floor means less time for some of the Tigers’ role players and fewer shots to go around. But it’s one that Copeland will have three games in a row this weekend to figure out, and there’s something to the notion that playing without Ely for a few weeks will make the team better in the long run.
Anderson’s emergence, for instance, came only when more of the scoring load fell onto her shoulders. With fewer designed plays now, that means she will have to rely more on her ability to rebound to find shots, a role she’s excelled at over the past month. And while sophomore Channah Cox saw fewer minutes Tuesday, the increased playing time she saw while Ely was out should benefit the Tigers’ second line, increasing the depth Copeland has to work with.
One of the Tigers’ biggest weaknesses with Ely out was a lack of outside shooting. Point guard Chandler Coale is shooting better than 50 percent from behind the arc, but she had a hard time finding open looks in Ely’s absence. Now that opposing teams will be forced to focus on Ely’s game beyond the arc, Coale could see more open shots.
It’s a lot of moving parts for Copeland to balance heading into the final stretch of the regular season when every game will impact playoff seeding.
“We had to have this game against Westmoore,” Copeland said Tuesday night. “And we’ve got a tough draw this weekend. But it’s also a chance for us to move up some, and having Taylor back definitely helps us to do that.”
Follow me @Chosler88