SHAWNEE — The last time Norman North took the floor for the championship game of a tournament, the Timberwolves watched in dismay as Bishop McGuinness hit a buzzer-beater to steal away the title from North.
Given a second chance Saturday in Shawnee, the T-Wolves made sure that wouldn’t happen. They took control of the title tilt against Stillwater early in the game and didn’t allow the Pioneers to ever get back in it as they cruised to a 78-57 victory.
It was a complete performance, and one that capped a weekend in which the Timberwolves returned to the form that led them to an 8-1 start. After leading just 17-16 after the first quarter, North took control in the second quarter with a 12-0 run and never looked back.
Much of that came thanks to Marcus Dickinson, who continued his aggressive play of the last week and took over the game, either by driving to the basket or finding open teammates for the dish. He finished the game with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists and was named tournament MVP after the game.
“Marcus is the engine that makes it go,” coach Bryan Merritt said. “He’s got the same game as Russell Westbrook; he’s just four or five inches shorter. Ever since that McGuinness game he’s been more aggressive, and that helps us in every way. He can go to the basket and draw contact or he can find his teammates.”
And on Saturday, those teammates came through in a balanced North attack. Despite playing without starting post Payton Prince, the T-Wolves found scoring all over the floor, and had five players score at least eight points. Kairo Rutledge had 15 points and six rebounds, while Lindy Waters had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
North also got a big game out of Trae Young. The freshman didn’t have his best shooting night — though he did finish with eight points — but made his impact felt in other ways. He had five assists and five rebounds and was instrumental in beating Stillwater’s full-court pressure.
“That was the best game T.Y.’s ever played as a guard,” Merritt said. “He played really well, and he just looked fast. He did a great job helping us break their press and played good defense.”
Once the T-Wolves got control of the game, their defense made sure they wouldn’t lose it. They frustrated the Pioneers from the start and forced them into 14 turnovers, several of which led to easy fast-break baskets. Despite the big night offensively, it was that defense that Merritt credited for the win, North’s third in as many days after losing four of five before that.
“We just played defense every possession tonight,” Merritt said. “We got back to playing like we were when we went down to Texas and won that tournament. If we keep playing with that kind of defense and energy, we’re going to make a run.”
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