Lindy Waters didn't look like he missed any time at all, and when the Oklahoma State-bound forward slammed in a two-handed dunk Saturday, it was clear his return only makes Norman North that much harder to stop.
In Waters' return from ineligibility the No. 2 Timberwolves (21-3) made dispatching Booker T. Washington look easy in a 79-58 victory. From the opening tip, North looked in control. After Trae Young's 8 of 10, 22-point third quarter, winning was inevitable. The T-Wolves had made the Hornets (17-6) look average, and, despite it being their biggest weakness earlier in the season, the defense was to thank for that.
“That was our best defensive game of the season for sure,” North coach Bryan Merritt said. “Everybody was locked in, playing good defense, especially early … Throughout the season we've, pretty much, outscored people. If we play defense like that, we've got a good chance to win a state championship.”
Led by Waters and Marcus Dickinson, North harassed the Hornets into 13 turnovers, most of which came in the first half. The T-Wolves allowed just 7 points in the first quarter, and while BTW climbed back to make it somewhat competitive in the second quarter, North was never really threatened. When active, Dickinson and Waters just provided too much of a hassle for BTW to break through offensively.
“Lindy's real important just because he gives you another real solid defensive player,” Merritt said. “He's always going to be where he's supposed to be. He's going to guard the other team's No. one, two or three best player just depending on the position.”
Waters also helps out on the defensive glass. In the past, it's been a desolate wasteland for North in the paint. Now, Merritt has 6-foot-8 Cameron Martin, who has offers to play Division I, 6-5 Charlie Kolar, 6-5 Winston Nelson and 6-4 Waters. Each of them gives North a different presence on the floor, and when they are all playing well, it's difficult to stop.
But only two to three of them played at once. The other two spots were taken by Young and Dickinson, who's chemistry didn't seem at all perturbed by the addition of Waters. Young had 37 points, Dickinson 18 and Waters added 11. Last year, the team struggled to find the right balance between the trio. Saturday, that wasn't a problem.
“We're older,” Dickinson said. “People talk about how (Waters) is a ball hog, but I've never known him as a ball hog. He's just a straight up team player and whatever we need, I know he's going to do it.”
Even in Young's high-flying third quarter, the team's chemistry never seemed to slip. Young had a team high eight assists, two of them coming in third. North's defense remained stout, allowing just 17 points, most coming off contested shots. The biggest bucket was arguably not any of Young's three 3s, but a Waters dunk, which fired up the reserves, coaches and players on the North side.
“Being eligible to play, it's just a blessing,” Waters said. “(In that dunk) I took it out on the rim, but that's nothing. Just wait.”
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Norman North 79, Booker T. Washington 58
BTW 7 18 17 16 — 58
North 16 16 30 17 — 79
BTW (17-6): Brantley 21, Bitson 20, Lucas 10, Hurd 4, Austin-Johnson 3
North (21-3): Trae Young 37, Marcus Dickinson 18, Lindy Waters 11, Cameron Martin 6, Charlie Kolar 4, Jon Roberts 3
Up next: Area final: North vs. No. 8 Putnam City North at TBA Thursday