NORMAN — Clinging to a shrinking lead, Bethany Cox held the ball near halfcourt, one of the few times in the fourth quarter the Tigers were able to get the ball past midcourt cleanly. As a pair of Midwest City defenders rushed toward her, the senior calmly zipped a pass under the basket, where it found a waiting Taylor Ely for a reverse layup that helped seal the upset win.
The play was one of many that Cox and Ely, who combined to score all but two of NHS’ points, created in a 44-38 victory Thursday over Midwest City in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs.
The win shocked most of those in attendance, not least of all the Midwest City bench. The Bombers had made the state tournament in each of the last five years and had handily defeated NHS in the two previous meetings this season.
But things were different from the start on Thursday. Taylor Ely hit a 3 on the Tigers’ opening possession, part of a scorching hot start that put NHS up 19-7 early in the second quarter and set the tone for the rest of the game. Ely and Cox each hit a pair of 3s during the run, including an off-balance buzzer-beater that banked in at the end of the first quarter.
“Having a start like that, it allowed us to take a deep breath and realize we could play with them,” coach Nichole Copeland said. “It was really important for us.”
Building on the hot start, NHS rolled to a 24-11 halftime lead. But Midwest City wasn’t going away. The Bombers came out in a full-court press in the third quarter that frustrated the Tigers into a series of turnovers that allowed Midwest City to cut it to a two-possession game.
As the Tigers struggled to score against the press, Midwest City continued to climb back into the game. That was when Cox found Ely underneath the basket on two consecutive possessions to maintain the slim lead, and after several Bomber misfires, Ely stepped up and knocked down three free throws to seal the game.
“We knew they were more athletic than us, and we knew we would have to play the best defense of our lives,” said Cox, who finished with 14 points , eight rebounds and four assists. “We executed on offense and gave it all we had and it worked out.”
Ely finished with 28 points to lead the Tigers, scoring from wherever on the floor she wanted. She had 12 points behind the arc and also was able to post up her defender, getting to the basket or drawing the foul. And she hit the two biggest free throws in the game, going to the line with 30 seconds left and extending a 40-38 lead into a 42-38 margin.
Next up for NHS is a 1:30 p.m. Saturday rematch against Norman North, winners over Lawton in the night game. And confidence is high among the Tigers after Thursday’s big win.
“It feels great to beat Midwest City,” Cox said. “It’s a huge step for us. Now we get to go play our rivals in the playoffs. It’s a great feeling.”
Follow me @Chosler88