E.A. Sports Today

Wood puts Heart in it

Sacred Heart senior comes back from two scary injuries, leads Sacred Heart to county boys title, becomes only second boy to sweep all three major awards

Sacred Heart’s bench erupts in happiness after clinching the Calhoun County Boys Tournament championship. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – Diante Wood limped out to midcourt to get all the awards – his awards — from the Calhoun County Basketball Tournament. It might have been the toughest walk of his career.

The Sacred Heart senior had never taken a pounding the likes of which he did Monday night in the boys championship game. Twice he had to leave for injuries that might have sidelined another, but he returned both times and led the Cardinals to a 66-61 victory over defending champion Oxford.

Wood scored 22 points despite leaving the game twice in the second half after crashing under the basket on his back after a hard foul and then after landing awkwardly on his already sore ankle.

But the Alabama signee played through all the pain. And for it, he earned the rare privilege of being named overall most valuable player of the tournament as well as the most outstanding offensive and defensive player awards.

Only one other player in tournament history has ever done that – Len Stafford of Oxford in 1983.

“It’s just a blessing,” Wood said. “I’m proud of myself, I put in a lot of work for it, and I’m just happy my team won the County.

“I’ve never had to go through that (kind of pounding), but I’ve got to expect that and I just have to come through it; the pain was a 10, I had to keep playing. You’ve gotta have heart, that’s all. You’ve got to have heart to be able to play through it and have fight.”

It was as if Wood was making up for lost time. He didn’t play in last year’s championship game because he was serving a one-game suspension for his second disqualification of the season in the semifinals.

“Did he deserve it?” Cardinals coach Ralph Graves said of Wood sweeping the awards, obviously certain he did. “And I think a lot of what happened last year played a part of that, too.

“A lot of that came through with his resilience. When they see the kid go under and hit his back on the floor everybody thought he was out. Then he goes away and comes back in and everybody cheers for him. Then he goes out with an ankle injury again and then he comes back in. It’s like, Oh Lord, he’s Superman.

“You can’t say enough about him and his toughness. And the kids rallied behind him and he didn’t let them down.”

Sacred Heart’s Diante Wood (L) stands with all-tournament Cardinal teammates Victor Wilson (2), Murdock Simmons (4) and Quin Riggins after collecting all the major awards at the Calhoun County Tournament. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

The game was a classic with players on each side making one big play after another. Eugene Leonard would drive to the basket to tie the game after shaking his defender with a behind-the-back move for Oxford, Victor Wilson would nail a big 3 from the corner. It was like that the entire game.

Neither team led by more than two at the end of any quarter and Sacred Heart rallied in the fourth quarter after trailing by seven with about four minutes to play.

Wood hurt his back when he got hammered going between Markise Davis and Leonard for a dunk with 2:38 left in the third quarter and the Cardinals up two. It was so jarring, Khalil Watkins had to take the free throws for him.

He was back on the floor a minute of game clock later – just in time to see Murdock Simmons go behind the wall with an ankle injury. Simmons was a force early, scoring nine points in the first quarter and all 16 of his points in the first half.

Wood hurt his own ankle in the fourth quarter landing wrong on a layup that cut the Cardinals’ deficit to 58-53 moments after he blocked a shot on the other end of the floor.

Wood scored 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, seven in the final four minutes. He made three of four free throws in the final 57 seconds, including two with 22.8 left that gave the Cardinals a 64-61 lead.

“You see the difference what happens when you’ve got a kid of that caliber on the floor,” Graves said. “He really controlled the game.”

“I told him I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a competitor,” Oxford coach Joel Van Meter said. “I know he’s had ankle issues the whole year that he’s been dealing with and he took a pretty good spill in the game. He was a fighter. He carried the team. He had some help, but he carried the team. I told him I’ve got a ton of respect for you as a competitor. You were able to bounce back and do the things you were able to do to help the team win.”

Graves called the victory “right at the top” among the biggest wins his program has secured – and that includes its current string of three straight state championships. The Cardinals won their first county title in 2015. They have been in the finals five straight years.

Boys Championship Game
Sacred Heart 66, Oxford 61
OXFORD – Markise Davis 2 5-7 9, Simeon Shadrix 2 0-0 5, Mont McClendon 1 0-0 2, Roc Taylor 4 2-3 10, Kendrick Foster 7 1-1 15, Eugene Leonard 7 0-0 14, Braden Mack 3 0-0 6, Tacorrie Russell 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 8-11 61.

SACRED HEART – Quin Riggins 2 0-2 5, Diante Wood 8 6-10 22, Victor Wilson 4 2-2 14, Murdock Simmons 6 3-5 16, Josh Brown 1 1-2 3, Khalil Watkins 2 1-2 6. Totals 23 13-23 66.

Oxford 16 15 16 14 — 61
Sacred Heart 15 18 14 19 — 66

3-point goals: Oxford 1 (Shadrix); Sacred Heart 7 (Riggins, Wilson 4, Simmons, Watkins). Fouled out: Mack, Watkins. Total fouls: Oxford 22, Sacred Heart 15. Officials: Madsen, Brown, Burns.

Sacred Heart’s Quin Riggins (0) moves in to disrupt by dribble of Oxford’s Kendrick Foster. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

Oxford’s Markise Davis (1) starts to dribble behind his back to elude Sacred Heart’s Stephen Stansil. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

To see a gallery of photos from the boys championship game, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

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