MIDWEST CITY — As soon as Taylor Ely heard the whistle and found out she would heading to the free throw line with a chance to win the game for Norman High, her first reaction was excitement. Not nerves. Not worried about missing her chance to pull NHS out of a one-point deficit with four seconds left. Just excitement and determination.
And with good reason. The senior stepped to the line and calmly delivered two free throws that gave NHS a 52-51 victory over 15th-ranked Putnam City in the opening round of the Carl Albert Titan Classic.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Ely said after finishing with 26 points in the upset win. “I was just excited we got that opportunity at the end.”
They almost didn’t. The Tigers trailed 48-44 with two minutes left but cut the lead to one point thanks to an Ely 3-pointer and a Bethany Franks layup after the Putnam City response. NHS got the ball with a minute left and was patient with its offense while looking for a shot. The clock got all the way down to five seconds without the Tigers finding that shot, and they turned it over near midcourt and gave Putnam City (7-7) a chance to ice the game.
But the Pirates missed the front end of the ensuing one-and-one, and Ely was fouled securing the rebound, setting the stage for her game-winning free throws.
Bethany Franks had a big game, scoring 21 points and nine rebounds, while Chandler Coale was scoreless but assisted on seven baskets.
After a lackluster effort against Westmoore on Tuesday, NHS (4-8) looked like a different team against the Pirates. The Tigers jumped out to a 12-7 lead after the first quarter and played superb defense against the Pirate’s post players.
But an offensive dry spell lasting a full six minutes in the second quarter allowed Putnam City to take a lead that eventually stretched as much as 12 points before NHS fought back. The Tigers cut the lead to four points entering the fourth quarter, and stayed neck and neck with the Pirates and took the lead when it mattered most, just before the buzzer.
“It’s exciting that we were actually able to finish that game like that,” Ely said. “That’s a big step for our team. Everyone contributed. We got the stops and the rebounds when we needed them.”
It was a sentiment echoed by coach Nichole Copeland, who has watched her team lose several games in the final minute this season.
“This team needed something good to happen for them, and it finally did,” she said. “But it didn’t just happen; they put themselves in a position to make it happen. They did a really good job managing the last three minutes of the game, and I’m proud of the way they closed out that game.”
NHS will take the floor at 4 p.m. today against Bartlesville in the semifinals of the tournament.
Follow me @Chosler88
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