Before the season began, no one would have predicted that Noble would be in the Class 5A state basketball tournament, which begins Thursday in Sapulpa.
In the pre-season, Noble was ranked near the bottom of the 32 schools in Class 5A, said Bears' coach Kenny Smith.
“If you had said back in October that Noble was going to make the state tournament, there is not a coach in Oklahoma that would have believed that,” Smith said.
But thanks to a 3-pointer at the buzzer Saturday night by senior guard Jared Palmer, Noble upset No. 6 Coweta, 39-36, in overtime of the area consolation finals, earning the Bears their first state tournament berth since 1995.
The shot left Palmer's hand just as the buzzer sounded, or so it was ruled. Even watching the play afterward on video, Smith says he can't tell whether the shot should have counted or not.
“He just threw up a prayer at the buzzer and it went in,” Smith said of Palmer's game winning heave. “There are no lights on the backboard (in Bixby) so it's a hard call for the referee. It's just one of those shots that could have went either way.”
The night before against Skiatook, point guard Leland Palmer – Jared's younger brother -sank an elbow jumper with 10 seconds left to give the Bears a 46-44 victory. It was the only time Noble led in the game.
Leland Palmer is the team's best player, having been named first team all-Suburban Conference. The junior point guard is a three-year starter, averaging 16 points and four assists per game.
But during the playoffs, the team's best player has been 6-2 forward Devin Wheeler, a post player who averaged a double-double in points and rebounds during the season.
“He's really lit it up and played well in the playoffs,” Smith said. “He's been the best player on the court every time we've played in the playoffs so far.”
The Bears, who entered the playoffs with an 11-12 record, may have had some good fortune on the buzzer-beater against Coweta, but Noble is overdue for some good luck.
For the past 18 seasons, Noble has been one of the worst high school basketball teams in Oklahoma.
The Bears' opening round win in the regional tournament was Noble's first victory in the playoffs in 18 years. In fact, the Bears have won very few games in the last 18 years.