E.A. Sports Today

Last-second drama

Oxford’s hopes in Northeast Regional dashed by foul trouble, last-second layup

The Huffman bench erupts after Eddie Smith hit the game-winning layup to beat Oxford in the Northeast Regional semifinals. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

At Jacksonville State
Huffman 54, Oxford 52
Pinson Valley 67, Lee-Huntsville 52
Championship game
Huffman vs. Pinson Valley, Wednesday, 2:15 p.m.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – The Huffman basketball team was greeted Friday morning by a charter bus with a bad rear tire, but by the end of the day it was the Oxford Yellow Jackets who were left flat.

Senior guard Eddie Smith’s driving layup with 2.2 seconds to play lifted the Vikings to a 54-52 win in the Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinals and thrust a dagger into the Jackets’ best hopes of the last three seasons of making it to Birmingham.

Huffman’s Eddie Smith goes to the basket between Oxford’s Zondrick Garrett (L) and Justin Moore. Smith hit a similar shot with two seconds left to win the game. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

See a gallery of photos from this game by clicking here www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

The loss snapped Oxford’s season-best 11-game winning streak and ended its season.
“We lost today, they made a couple more plays than us,” Oxford coach Joel VanMeter said. “You have to give them all the credit in the world … They won the game. At the end of the day they made one more play than us and you’ve got to give them credit.
“We had a chance to win the game at the end. They had a chance to win the game at the end. And they made the play that they needed to make.”

The day didn’t start all well for the Vikings. They were all set for the trip to Jacksonville State when Huffman coach Stephen Ward got a call that their charter bus had a flat rear tire and wasn’t going to make it over to the school.
It set the Vikings back about an hour and gave Ward, an admitted big planner, some aggravation before they commandeered a fan school bus for the trip over.But it was nothing compared to the rhythm Oxford lost throughout the game by constant foul trouble.

Four of the Yellow Jackets’ five starters had at least four fouls and post Zondrick Garrett and Eugene Leonard both fouled out in the fourth quarter with the game still much in doubt.

Leonard picked up his first two on offensive fouls in the first quarter, his third with 2:20 left in the half and fouled out of his final high school game with 3:28 to play and the Jackets ahead 49-46. He played just 17 minutes. Garrett fouled out with 1:04 to play and the Jackets up 52-49.

Kobe Warren and Roc Taylor picked up their fourth fouls early in the fourth quarter.

The foul trouble gave several players more minutes than they get normally and VanMeter praised them for doing “a tremendous job,” but objectively they weren’t the players Oxford needed on the floor in an ultra-tight game.

“Foul trouble is foul trouble,” VanMeter said. “It’s part of the game of basketball. You’ve got to work through it. It was a lot to work through. I thought we did a good job of that and gave ourselves a chance.”
With Leonard unable to get into any kind of flow, and when he did play was forced back onto the ball by Warren’s foul trouble, it was up to Mont McClendon to hold Oxford together. McClendon responded with a game-high 19 points, four rebounds and three assists.

“I had to keep my team together and coach told me to be a scorer,” McClendon said. “I think I maintained it good.”

Garrett finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots. Leonard finished with two points.

The Jackets (24-5) broke away from the sixth tie of the game with a 7-0 run to take a 24-17 lead with 3:23 left in the half, but Huffman came back and Jamal Mott hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Vikings a 28-27 lead. Oxford coach Joel VanMeter said that was the key point in the game.
The key for Ward was getting the Jackets’ big men in foul trouble.

Huffman’s Michael Lockhart got the Vikings within 52-50 with a free throw on the foul that got Garrett out of the game.

The Vikings (21-7) tied it when Cam Humes worked around Roc Taylor in the paint for a layup with 44.6 seconds left. Lockhart knocked the ball away from Taylor in front of the Oxford bench with 20.2 seconds left – the Jackets’ 20th turnover of the game – to set the go-ahead play in motion.

Huffman wanted to hold for the last shot “and Eddie’s our guy,” Ward said. Smith held it at the top of the key before driving the lane and scoring.
“That guy did a good job of attacking,” VanMeter said. “Obviously you’d like Z in there to have a chance to contest at the rim but he wasn’t in there, so we’ve just got to live with what happened and move on.”
“I had my mind made up,” Smith said. “I was calling for screen for Mike (Lockhart). He set a good screen and I just executed. I was just blessed God put me in that situation. My teammates trusted me and I just executed.”
“We trusted our brother,” Mott said. “He told us he had our back. Mike set a good screen and we just executed.”
Oxford had a final shot, but Warren’s 3-pointer was long off the glass as the buzzer sounded.
“It’s tough,” Leonard said. “He just made a good shot.”
“It hurts,” McClendon said, “but we’re all going to overcome it. Next year we’ll be back.”

Smith led Huffman with 14 points. Humes, playing just a few months after undergoing a kidney transplant in November, had 13 points. Lockhart finished with 10.

Huffman 54, Oxford 52
OXFORD (24-5) –
Zondrick Garrett 5-10 6-7 16, Eugene Leonard 1-4 0-0 2, Mont McClendon 7-15 4-6 19, Kobe Warren 0-3 0-1 0, Roc Taylor 4-5 1-2 9, Rylan Houck 0-0 1-2 1, Justin Moore 2-7 1-4 5, Milas Jackson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-44 13-22 52.
HUFFMAN (21-7) – Jamal Mott 3-5 1-2 9, Eddie Smith 5-12 3-5 14, Cameron Humes 5-11 3-3 13, James Burgess 1-6 0-0 2, Michael Lockhart 4-11 2-5 10, Dequarrian Ezell 0-0 0-0 0, Jacob Robinson 0-2 2-4 2, Jamon Reed 0-0 0-0 0, Elbert Washington 0-0 0-0 0, Jonathan Murray 0-0 0-0 0, Caleb Tillman 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 20-50 11-19 54.
Oxford     12          15            16            9              –                52
Huffman 13          15            13            13            –                54
3-point goals: Oxford 1-13 (Garrett 0-4, McClendon 1-4, Warren 0-2, Taylor 0-1, Moore 0-2); Huffman 3-6 (Mott 2-2, Smith 1-3, Tillman 0-1). Rebounds: Oxford 39 (Garrett 13, Taylor 8); Huffman 25 (Burgess 5, Lockhart 5). Technical fouls: Humes. Fouled out: Garrett, Leonard. Total fouls: Oxford 21, Huffman 20. Officials: Kyle Chambers, Terry Anthony, Mickey Cunningham.

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