E.A. Sports Today

Jackets race to area title

Horses for courses: Oxford systematically dismantles Southside to win its first area championship in recent memory

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — Joel VanMeter has his roots in Kentucky, so it’s only natural that thoroughbreds and basketball would find their way into the Oxford coach’s casual conversations.

In racing parlance, his Yellow Jackets are two-thirds of the way to their own Triple Crown.

The Jackets won the Calhoun County Tournament last month and won their first area basketball title in recent memory Thursday night with a 69-51 victory over Southside-Gadsden. The last jewel is the state championship, and they start on the road to that Tuesday night when they host a sub-regional game for the first time.

“I told Eugene (Leonard) last night that we got a chance to win this thing when you got thoroughbreds, and that is what we have,” VanMeter said. “We just have to go out and run hard and see what happens next.”

It was no contest Thursday night as the Jackets (20-10) systematically dismantled the Panthers on their way to the Class 6A Area 13 Championship. It was their first Area title in a long time, as no one can remember the last time it happened.

“I cannot remember when,” Oxford athletics director and former coach Larry Davidson said, “but I know this is the first Area championship that has been won in the Sports Arena.”

It will be an historic meeting Tuesday night when the Yellow Jackets host the loser of Friday’s Albertville-Fort Payne game with a Northeast Regional playoff berth on the line. It will be the first time the Jackets will host a sub-region game.

“We are so glad to be playing at home,” VanMeter said. “It is going to be a tough game, but the biggest game this school has seen in a long time.

“We hope everybody will come out like they did at the County tournament. These young men have a chance to achieve a lot and if we can get some big crowds behind us here at home and if we get to JSU for the regionals, it would be a great thing for these guys.”

The fans got their money’s worth Thursday night with a flying arsenal of dunks by several Jackets and some tenacious full-court defense that just wore down the Panthers.

Southside was trying to slow the game and Oxford started out cold from the floor and trailed 9-6 midway in the opening quarter. But sophomore guard Leonard scored nine straight points in the middle of a 13-point Oxford run to open up the game.
This was coupled with a smothering defense that created seven Panthers turnovers and gave the Yellow Jackets a 30-17 lead at the half.

Freshman Zondrick Garrett sat out most of the first half, picking up two quick fouls, but erupted for eight third-quarter points. Teammate Braden Mack added eight more and the Jackets opened up a 23-point lead.

Leonard finished with a game-high 21 points, while Garrett had 12 points and seven rebounds, and Mack had 12 points and six boards.

Southside had one last fight in them as it scored 12 straight points to start the fourth quarter to chop Oxford’s lead to 11 points. Junior forward Markise Davis, back from games missed to injury, then took off from the corner and flew in with a smashing dunk to stop the run. Moments later, Simeon Shaddrix hit a 3-point dagger that put the Jackets back up by 17 points and it was over.

“Simeon has ice water in his veins and has hit some big shots for us,” VanMeter said. “I think we got a bit stagnant in the fourth quarter and that was my fault as I pulled them back a little bit.

“These guys are just so athletic and play so hard that is just hard for them to slow down that early in a game. Markise and Simeon had those two big plays and I was really proud of how we responded to their run. Southside is such a good team and will not quit, but we answered them tonight.”

Oxford 69, Southside 51
Brock Habian 2 0-0 6, Dawson Nunn 5 0-0 11, Tristan Riggan 3 1-2 7, Jarred D’eath 2 1-2 6, Devin Lester 3 6-6 15, Gavin Orr 2 2-4 6. Totals 17 10-14 51.

OXFORD (20-10) – Markise Davis 4 0-0 8, Jakolbe McClendon 3 0-1 6, Eugene Leonard 7 5-6 21, Zondrick Garrett 4 4-4 12, Braden Mack 6 0-0 12, Ty Davis 1 2-4 4. Totals 27 11-15 69.

Southside 9 8 16 18 — 51
Oxford 12 18 24 15 — 69

3-point goals: Southside 7 (Habian 2, Nunn, D’eath, Lester 3); Oxford 4 (Shadrix 2, Leonard 2).

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