NORMAN — The Timberwolves said things had changed since the first Crosstown Clash, when Norman High rolled to a 74-54 win on Dec. 20 on Norman North’s home court.
On Friday night, the T-Wolves returned the favor. And they did it with a pair of players who had never played a varsity game at Norman High.
Behind a brutally efficient game from freshman Marcus Dickinson and a dominant game inside the paint by junior transfer Kairo Rutledge, North jumped out early and dodged several bullets late to hold on for a 52-49 win.
In the final five minutes of the game, the Timberwolves (11-12) showed both why they are such a dangerous team, and why they have had trouble closing out games. After turning a 43-42 lead into a 52-47 margin, North went scoreless over the final 90 seconds, turned the ball over three times and missed the front end of a pair of one-and-ones at the free throw line.
The litany of mistakes gave NHS (9-14) plenty of opportunities to climb back into the game. But after getting to 49 on a Sam Blodgett layup, the Tigers went cold, turning it over once and missing three shots that would have tied it.
“We’re not the same team we were on December 20th,” coach Butch Roberts said. “In spite of how silly we got out there, we found a way to get it done.”
Roberts looked to Dickinson to pace the Timberwolves and to Rutledge to contain NHS senior Sam Blodgett, who torched North for 23 points in the first meeting.
And both answered the call. Dickinson stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, six rebounds and a pair of assists, while Rutledge played one of his best games to date, tallying 10 points and 13 rebounds to record the double-double. He also frustrated Blodgett throughout the game, holding him to 14 points.
The combination put North in charge from the start. The Timberwolves raced out to an early lead and extended it to as many as 11 points midway through the third period.
But North went cold in the fourth, scoring just seven points in the quarter and allowing the Tigers to claw back in. Daniel Harper scored eight points as part of a run that got NHS to within a point early in the fourth quarter before North stretched the lead again.
Blodgett led NHS with 14 points and added eight rebounds, while Cooper Clark chipped in 13. In all, four Tigers scored in double figures, but they were unable to find much help beyond that, particularly late in the game when North tightened its defense.
“We just didn’t execute down the stretch,” NHS coach Matt Thornton said. “Missed blockouts, missed free throws; little things like that. The good news is we have a week to take this game, learn from it and fix our mistakes before the playoffs.”
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