SHAWNEE — Norman North was where it wanted to be. The Timberwolves were up 47-43 with five minutes to play against Class 5A’s No. 7 Southeast, and they had the Spartans reeling after three straight turnovers and a technical foul gave North the momentum.
But it was Southeast, and forward Rashawn Thomas, that made the most plays down the stretch, giving the Spartans a 61-56 victory in the championship game of the Shawnee tournament.
North looked like the superior team for much of the game but 23 turnovers proved to be its undoing, giving Southeast too many extra possessions. That was in large part thanks to the Spartans’ unyielding press defense, which pressed the Timberwolves into a number of difficult upcourt passes in traffic.
And Thomas made his presence felt on both ends of the floor from the opening tip. The 6-6 senior finished with 19 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks, protecting the paint and deterring a number of North drives.
The combination of Thomas inside and Southeast’s quick guards around the perimeter made it difficult for North to find many open looks. But the Timberwolves did have success at times attacking the press and getting fouled going to the bucket. But it came at the price of too many dangerous passes and turnovers.
“We gave great effort tonight, but our decision-making wasn’t as good as it has been in the past,” North coach Butch Roberts said. “But a lot of that was what they were doing. We were trying to make plays and get to the basket.”
It was a string of fourth-quarter turnovers when Southeast ratcheted up the pressure that proved to be the difference. The Spartans were able to keep North from putting up a shot for several straight possessions in the fourth quarter while they built a 57-52 lead with just over two minutes left that was too much for the T-Wolves to overcome.
North made its living at the free throw line. Twenty-five of its 56 points came at the charity stripe and put the Spartans into foul trouble. Thomas, who was hounded relentlessly by North’s Tye Neubauer, fouled out with just under two minutes left. Neubauer finished with 11 points and disrupted a number of interior passes, at times frustrating Thomas on the block.
“Tye gives us a boost every time he gets on the floor, even if he doesn’t score a point,” Roberts said. “He doesn’t need to touch the ball to be effective and he always gives great effort. He’s one of those hardhat guys who just comes to work.”
Neubauer was one of four T-Wolves in double digits. Marcus Dickinson added 12, with 10 coming on free throws, while Lindy Waters had 10 and Payton Prince added 13 and 10 rebounds for the double-double, capping off a weekend that earned him a spot on the all-tournament team.
Roberts said that, while his team is disappointed in the loss, he’s looking at the big picture and saw the weekend as another step forward for North.
“This was a good weekend for us,” he said. “We lost to a good team and we played well. We’ve got two games left before seedings come out and we need to make a good showing next week.”
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