E.A. Sports Today

More than tough

Oxford breaks open game with a high-scoring minute of basketball, races past Albertville for spot in regional finals

Oxford’s Eugene Leonard (12) was particularly active in a 43-second stretch of the second quarter that gave the Jackets complete control of their Class 6A Northeast Regional game Friday. On the cover, Markise Davis fights around a tough spot against Albertville’s Dillon Harding. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — It took Oxford less than a minute to punch its ticket back to the Northeast Regional finals.

Of course, the Yellow Jackets had to play all 32 minutes to make it count, for all intents their future was secured by 43 seconds in the second quarter.

The Jackets gave one of their best efforts of the season and already were ahead when it happened, but they broke it open with nine points in a 43-second stretch of the second quarter, paving the way for an 85-57 win over Albertville in the Class 6A regional semifinals at Jacksonville State Friday morning.

The Jackets (20-11) now play Parker (23-8) Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. for a trip to the Final Four. Parker, which used a big second half to roast Pinson Valley, handed the Jackets a crushing defeat in last year’s regional final, the memory of which burned within them throughout this season.

After the game Oxford coach Joel Van Meter talked about wanting to be the hardest-playing and toughest team on the floor and not stop jabbing after scoring an early knockdown — just like his all-time favorite boxer, middleweight Marvin Hagler. The Jackets did all that.

Those nine points in 43 seconds, Van Meter said, “was a pretty strong jab.”

The Jackets already were ahead 33-28 when they hit the stretch that sealed the game and Eugene Leonard was right in the middle of it.

One of the feel-good moments of the game was when senior Caden Higgins went into the game late in the fourth quarter. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

It started with a technical foul on Aggies coach Patrick Harding with 3:11 left in the half. Simeon Shadrix hit the two free throws, then Leonard turned it into a five-point possession with a three-point play.

It basically became a seven-point possession by association when Leonard turned over the Aggies (25-5) again and converted it into a layup.

“It was probably the biggest stretch of the game,” Leonard said. “It was just being aggressive on offense and defense and doing what Coach says. It was fun. You get them to turn it over and stuff like that off your defense and it turns into offense, easy buckets.”

The run ended on Kobe Warren’s basket at the 2:28 mark, forcing the Aggies to call a time out. The break only paused the run. Mont McClendon wrapped the first two of his three 3-pointers in the quarter around an Albertville free throw and just that quickly it was a 48-29 game.

“I think that’s the initial separator,” Van Meter said. “We talked going into the game that we’re going to have runs and they’re going to have runs, and a lot of times a team will say we’ve got to throw the first punch. What that means is you want to get a run to start the game. We did that against Homewood and in some other games, but what we haven’t done is continuously jab the whole game.

“That was our motto coming in. I don’t want to be the guy who throws the first punch and then we don’t throw one for another two quarters. Let’s jab, jab, jab, jab, jab and if you throw enough jabs you’re going to win the fight. A 9-0 run in less than a minute, that’s a pretty strong jab.”

But it didn’t stop there. The Jackets started hot in the third quarter and buried three straight 3s — by Braden Mack, Rok Taylor and Leonard — to go up 60-33. That was the knockout blow, the kind delivered by Leonard’s favorite boxer, Tuscaloosa heavyweight Deontay Wilder.

The Jackets were 14-of-33 from 3-point range in the game, 8-of-14 in the first half. Ten of their 12 players who got in the game took at least one, six of them made at least one.

Braden Mack (23) was one of two Yellow Jackets to post a double-double in the game. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

“Once I hit a 3, Kendrick (Foster) hit a 3 and Eugene hit a 3, everybody just started shooting and they started falling in,” Markise Davis said. “And then Rok started shooting and he never shoots 3s, and they went in. We liked the 3s.”

“They were hitting them from everywhere,” Harding said. “We’ve got guys we were encouraging to shoot hit multiple 3s and they ain’t hit multiple 3s all year. Yeah, that was a tough stretch; it had a lot to do with fatigue and being discouraged because when we’d get 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s we didn’t capitalize.”

Five Yellow Jackets players scored in double figures, led by Leonard’s 21. Mack (12/12) and Davis (13/10) enjoyed double-doubles. Taylor, who was 3-of-5 beyond the arc, had 15 points. McClendon had 13 points off the bench.

A nice element to such an easy victory is it gave the Jackets a chance to clear the bench. That gave Caden Higgins a chance to get in a game for the second time this season.

Higgins had been battling a serious intestinal ailment all season and only returned to the team in time to participate in Senior Night. He played three minutes.

“Our team is so close-knit; guys are so connected,” Van Meter said. “Our guys want him to get out there so bad. You can see he’s still not 100 percent but it was so important for them to let him get in there.

“This is the second game he’s played as a senior. He was a difference maker in my opinion last year in this game here; he came in in the second quarter and did a great job defensively when Eugene was in foul trouble, so you want to pay those guy back.

“I thought that we got the opportunity to let him get on the floor and get some minutes, and I bet he was dead tired.”

But you could tell by the expression on his face when one of the 3-pointers he took rimmed out he was happy.

Oxford 85, Albertville 57
OXFORD (20-11) –
Markise Davis 5-9 0-0 13, Rok Taylor 6-9 0-0 15, Kendrick Foster 2-9 1-3 5, Eugene Leonard 8-12 3-4 21, Braden Mack 4-11 2-4 12, Kobe Warren 1-3 0-0 2, Simeon Shadrix 0-4 4-4 4, Mont McClendon 5-8 0-0 13, Caden Higgins 0-2 0-0 0, Trafton Houck 0-1 0-0 0, Rylan Houck 0-1 0-0 0, Tacorrie Russell 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 31-70 9-12 85.

ALBERTVILLE (25-5) – Dane Harding 2-5 2-4 6, Carlos Merino 3-4 9-12 16, Brodie Canterberry 2-9 1-2 5, Dillon Harding 2-8 0-0 5, Trinity Bell 6-9 3-5 15, Chrisopher Snider 0-2 1-2 1, Chi Jordan 0-2 0-0 0, Ben Allen 2-3 0-0 4, Joseph Moore Harris 0-1 1-2 1, Jerry Cervantes 1-3 1-2 4. Totals 18-46 18-29 57.

Oxford 19 32 22 12 — 85
Albertville 19 13 13 12 — 57

3-point goals: Oxford 14-33 (Davis 3-5, Taylor 3-4, Foster 1-3, Leonard 2-5, Mack 2-3, Warren 0-1, Shadrix 0-4, McClendon 3-5, Higgins 0-2, Russell 0-1); Albertville 3-17 (Dn. Harding 0-1, Merino 1-2, Canterberry 0-2, Dl. Harding 1-7, Snider 0-2, Jordan 0-1, Cervantes 1-2). Rebounds: Oxford 49 (Mack 12, Davis 10, Taylor 6); Albertville 30 (Bell 6). Technical fouls: Albertville coach Harding. Total fouls: Oxford 23, Albertville 16. Officials: Alan Cosby, Michael Harrison, Daniel Holmes.

Parker 66, Pinson Valley 46
Orion Morris 3-8 7-11 14, GaQuincy McKinstry 0-1 0-0 0, Colby Jones 4-13 1-6 10, Geordon Pollard 4-10 2-4 10, Camron Scott 3-6 0-0 7, Kewaski Jackson 0-4 1-2 1, LiAllen Dailey 1-1 0-0 2, Mason Rudolph 0-0 0-0 0, Micah Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Joseph James 0-1 0-0 0, Amon Scarbrough 0-0 0-0 0, Jerrell Willie 0-4 2-2 2, Timothy Moneyham 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-48 13-25 46.

PARKER (23-8) – Kambree Johnson 2-3 1-2 5, Kamaron Owens 5-9 4-6 16, Zachary Webb 0-0 0-0 0, Xavier Williams 7-9 3-5 17, Jason King 10-23 3-5 23, Amari Phillips 0-1 0-0 0, Jamarus June 0-2 1-2 1, Tavion Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Darian Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Tavaris Bell 0-1 0-0 0, Isiah Anthony 0-1 2-2 2, Phidarius Pittman 1-2 0-2 2, JahShawn Banks 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-51 14-24 66.

Pinson Valley 10 23 6 7 — 46
Parker 14 13 16 23 — 66

3-point goals: Pinson Valley 3-15 (Scott 1-3, Jones 1-4, Morris 1-1, Jackson 0-2, James 0-1, Willie 0-3, Pollard 0-1); Parker 2-4 (Owens 2-2, Junes 0-1, King 0-1). Rebounds: Pinson Valley 25 (Pollard 7); Parker 44 (King 10). Fouled out: Morris, Dailey. Total fouls: Pinson Valley 21, Parker 22. Officials: Kyle Chambers, Alan Cosby, Earl Warren.

Oxford’s Rok Taylor (5), Eugene Leonard (12), Markise Davis (1) and Kendrick Foster (10) played into the teeth of the Albertville cheering section in the first half of their game Friday. To view a photo gallery from the game visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

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