OKLAHOMA CITY — Saturday’s championship game at the Bishop McGuinness Classic was one of the more unique starts either Norman North or the host team will have this season. The T-Wolves’ first five baskets were 3-pointers, the game’s first foul didn’t come until the closing seconds of the first half and at one point in the first half the Timberwolves held the ball near midcourt for 90 seconds daring the Irish to come out of their triangle-and-two defense.
It also had one of the wildest finishes either team will have this season, and it ended in a Bishop McGuinness victory when senior Will Lienhard hit a fallaway jumper at the buzzer to deliver Class 5A’s No. 1 Irish a 41-39 victory.
Back and forth the entire second half after Bishop McGuinness overcame an eight-point first-half deficit, the game stood tied at 37 with 1:20 left when the teams began to trade big shot after big shot. First it was 6-8 big man Lienhard, who powered his way through the Timberwolves for a layup to put Bishop McGuinness on top. The Irish had a chance to ice the game after rebounding a missed Timberwolves’ shot but missed both free throws, allowing Marcus Dickinson to draw Lienhard out of the lane and then find Payton Prince for a game-tying layup with five seconds left.
That set the stage for the final play, where the Irish inbounded the ball and then found Lienhard along the baseline, where he turned to face up and shot a fadeaway jump shot from 12 feet out to seal the game as the buzzer sounded.
It capped a huge night for Lienhard, who finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and four assists as his presence dominated the contest from start to finish. With Lienhard patrolling the paint, the Timberwolves were unable to attack the basket and couldn’t effectively challenge him when they did. North shot just seven free throws in the game, compared to Bishop McGuinness’ 11, and had a hard time finding any open space for jumpers.
The only North player to find any space was sophomore Lindy Waters, who led the team with 20 points and five rebounds. Kairo Rutledge also added seven points and six rebounds.
The T-Wolves’ strategy of doubling Lienhard from the offside or playing him straight-up with Prince or Rutledge if he did catch it was effective. He was scoreless in the first half as the Timberwolves frustrated the Irish and held them to just 13 points.
Bishop McGuinness adjusted by putting in four shooters around Lienhard, which freed up their offense in the second half when roles reversed. The T-Wolves began to slow down from outside the arc and Bishop McGuinness hit a string of deep shots as a 16-4 run that changed the game and forced North to play from behind. Included in that stretch was a technical foul for taunting levied at North that turned into a three-point swing for the Irish.
“We kind of gave away the game by making a lot of unforced mistakes and plays that just aren’t very basketball smart,” coach Bryan Merritt said. “We’ve still got a long way to go. They hit a big shot at the end, but we did too many small things wrong leading up to that. It came down to a couple plays here and there. I thought we came in with a great gameplan and Payton and Kairo did a good job defending.
“I thought the kids played really well tonight. We proved this weekend we’re a good basketball team. As long as we learn from this and don’t make the same mistakes going forward, I don’t mind the loss at all.”
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