E.A. Sports Today

Leonard takes charge

Senior guard follows his instincts, leads Oxford past Sacred Heart for second county title in three years; Cardinals’ Stone MVP

Oxford’s Eugene Leonard (R) moves in to attempt a steal against Sacred Heart’s Khalil Watkins in Saturday’s Calhoun County Boys Tournament title game. On the cover he pulls up for a 3-pointer in the first quarter. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – If there was one player Oxford coach Joel Van Meter would pick to build his roster around he says guard Eugene Leonard would be that guy “any day and twice on Sunday.”

He was glad to have Leonard on hand Saturday. The senior was not the tournament most valuable player or one of the major award winners, but the way he played Saturday he could have been. He was that important to the Yellow Jackets’ fortunes in the title game.

Leonard scored 19 points, was near perfect at the free throws line and took several charges in key moments down the stretch to help the Yellow Jackets beat Sacred Heart 69-59 to win the Calhoun County Tournament championship.

“He was a difference maker,” Van Meter said.

Oxford’s Zondrick Garrett (1) and Mont McClendon (3) celebrate the Yellow Jackets’ second Calhoun County Tournament title in three years. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

Interestingly, the breakout came after Leonard and VanMeter had a brief conversation in an empty dressing room after Friday’s semifinal win about letting go and just playing. Leonard scored eight points against Piedmont and 11 against Alexandria and just wasn’t happy with the way he was playing.

“I struggled the first two games doing too much thinking, but this time I just played,” Leonard said. “I just went out there and trusted my instincts. We had to get our rhythm back as a team both offensive and defensively and we found it tonight. We got back on track.”
Leonard is what VanMeter calls a “thinker” and sometimes just gets caught in a little paralysis by analysis.

“If he doesn’t play well he always think something’s wrong,” Van Meter said. “I told him to shut up and quit worrying; you’re a good player, go be a good player. I love the fact he’s a thinker, but sometimes I try to encourage him don’t worry about it, just go play. Don’t look for answers. Sometimes they are no answers.”

It was Oxford’s second title in three years and avenged a loss to the Cardinals in last year’s title game.

Sacred Heart’s Jayden Stone (R) became the first tournament MVP from a runner-up team in seven years. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

Sacred Heart’s Jayden Stone was the tournament MVP. He had 78 points in three tournament games, had 23 points in the championship game and had the ball in his hands every time the Cardinals needed/wanted something to happen. He is the tournament’s first MVP from a runner-up since Anniston’s Lasheddrick Edmondson in 2012, when Oxford beat the Bulldogs 42-39 in the title game.

The Cardinals were playing in the title game for the sixth year in a row; they’ve won it twice. The only three games they have lost after the start of the new year in the past five seasons have been in the county tournament finals.

The game was tight throughout. There were 15 lead changes, several during a series of alternating possessions. The last lead change came on Zondrick Garrett’s basket with less than two minutes left in the third quarter that put Oxford up 42-40.

Allen Marshall tied the game at 42, then the Yellow Jackets scored the next seven points for a little breathing room. They scored another seven straight points later in the quarter to push the lead to 10 points.

The Jackets hit eight of their first nine free throws in the fourth quarter. They were 11 of 17 altogether in the quarter and 15 of 24 in the second half.

“From what I saw, they were playing zone, we figured it out a little bit and when they went man I thought we had a couple mismatches and were able to go to those,” VanMeter said. “And then defensively we decided we were going to guard people.”.

VanMeter was particular high on the job Kobe Warren and Mont McClendon did on Stone before and after he got the ball and Roc Taylor did on Khalil Watkins.

“We hang our hats defensively and at the end of the day I think that’s what won the game, our defensive effort,” VanMeter said.

Leonard was one of the answers defensively down the stretch when the Jackets pulled away. He was particularly effective taking charges.

“I talk to our guys about culture plays, like who we’re about and what we do,” VanMeter said. “The two games here we hadn’t even taken a charge; Eugene said I’ve taken one. In the third quarter, he missed an opportunity and gave Stone an and-one. He said my fault and the next two opportunities he got he took the charge.”

Oxford 69, Sacred Heart 59
Khalil Watkins 5 3-5 13, Jack Miller 1 2-2 4, Allen Marshall 3 0-0 6, Caleb Brown 4 2-2 11, Aaron Moore 0 0-0 0, Jayden Stone 9 2-5 23, Cade Landers 1 0-0 2, K.D. Harris 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 9-14 59.
OXFORD – Zondrick Garrett 5 3-3 13, Eugene Leonard 4 10-11 19, Mont McClendon 6 1-5 16, Kobe Warren 1 5-6 7, Roc Taylor 6 1-3 13, Justin Moore 0 1-4 1. Totals 22 21-32 69.
Sacred Heart      13            13            16            17            –               59
Oxford                  12            12            20            25            –               69

3-point goals: Sacred Heart 4 (Brown, Stone 3); Oxford 4 (Leonard, McClendon 3). Fouled out: Landers, Moore, Garrett. Total fouls: Sacred Heart 25, Oxford 14. Officials: Brown, Burns, Hughes.

Van Deerman MVP:
Jayden Stone, Sacred Heart
Outstanding Offensive Player: Jayden Stone, Sacred Heart
Outstanding Defensive Player: Zondrick Garrett, Oxford
All-Tournament Team
Joe Tucker, Alexandria
Matthew Clay, White Plains
Antonio Kite, Anniston
Landan Williams, Alexandria
Kwame Milton, Anniston
Alex Odam, Piedmont
Kyrie Maynor, Jacksonville
Delo Foster, Piedmont
Shamar Spinks, Weaver
Chase Vinson, JCA
Roc Taylor, Oxford
Eugene Leonard, Oxford
Jayden Stone, Sacred Heart
Zondrick Garrett, Oxford
Khalil Watkins, Sacred Heart

Tournament MVP Jayden Stone of Sacred Heart goes airborne trying to get around Oxford’s Zondrick Garrett (1) during Saturday’s boys championship game of the Calhoun County Tournament. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

To see more photos from the game visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

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