OKLAHOMA CITY — Coming into the opening game of the Bishop McGuinness Classic, Norman North had two goals. The first was to improve the defensive rebounding, and the second was to come out ready to play from the start.
After a 75-60 win over Deer Creek on Thursday, coach Butch Roberts saw progress on both fronts, if not a complete turnaround.
“We were ready to play from beginning, and we did a better job rebounding,” he said. “I thought today we shared the ball as well as we have all year. But we still need to get better at rebounding. Right now we do it when it’s easy or convenient, but we need to do it all the time.”
They did it enough against the Antlers. After the lead changed hands five times in the first quarter, North began to pull away. Spurred by Payton Prince, who scored eight of his 16 points in the first quarter, the T-Wolves stretched the lead to 16-11 at the end of the frame.
It was a sign of things to come, and North used a 15-2 second-quarter run to take firm control of the game. A big part of that came from the Timberwolves’ activity on the boards, including one possession in which North pulled down four offensive rebounds before Tye Neubauer finished off the possession with a short jumper.
After two encouraging games last week against Class 6A’s top two teams in Edmond Memorial and Midwest City, the Timberwolves delivered on that promise against Deer Creek, building a 20-point lead in the second half.
But the Antlers wouldn’t go away, and after several deep 3-pointers, they had closed the gap to 10 points with just under four minutes to go. In what could be seen as a sign of growth for the young T-Wolves, they weathered the storm, clamped down on the defensive end and extended the lead back to 20 in the game’s final minutes.
“We were really ready for this tournament,” Prince said. “We had two really good practices this week, and it carried into today.”
Prince led North with 16 points, while Tye Neubauer turned in his best game of the year with 12 points. Marcus Dickinson had eight for the T-Wolves. Deer Creek had a balanced effort, with three players scoring in double digits.
Next up for North is a semifinal game tonight against Edmond North. With a win, the T-Wolves can advance to the title game after finishing fifth a year ago.
“Getting this win gives us a lot of intensity for the rest of the weekend,” Prince said. “We know we can compete with anyone here at this tournament.”
Clay HorningFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org