E.A. Sports Today

Four on the floor

Oxford spoils Jacksonville’s bid to win first county title in 27 years, ties its own record for consecutive titles; Houck named MVP

x-Team history entering Friday’s
championship game

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Rylan Houck genuinely did not feel slighted when he was passed over for MVP of last year’s Calhoun County Basketball Tournament even though he was the lynchpin on the winning team.

But it’s safe to say the feeling was a lot more satisfying Friday night.

Less to right a great cosmic wrong and more to recognize his dominance in this game, Houck was named MVP this year after leading Oxford over top-seeded Jacksonville 64-62 in a game that went down to the last shot for another county tournament crown.

“I told you the other day there’s nothing better than that win right there,” Houck said. “If we would have lost that game and I’d have gotten the MVP trophy, it would have held no value to me.

“But the fact that we won and I get that, yeah, there’s a little extra something to that, but the win is by far my favorite part.”

Much was made about Jacksonville’s bid to win its first county boys title in 27 years and Oxford’s win spoiled that. But it also allowed the Yellow Jackets to tie a record they set more than a century ago of four straight titles.

They have won the tournament 22 times all-time and five of the last six years. They are 17-1 in tournament games on this current run – and Houck has been around all of them.

The Jackets also won four in a row from 1961 to 1964, the last two teams on which current Oxford coach Joel VanMeter’s father-in-law, Larry Skinner, played. Five other times a team has won three in a row, but they could never pull off the slam like Oxford did Friday.

“That’s awesome,” VanMeter said when reminded of the Jackets’ unique place in tournament history.“I’ve been blessed with great players, I’ve got great help, I’ve got great people around me. I just try to help them and it’s really rewarding to me.

“As a player, growing up, I never experienced stuff like this. I was not on a very good high school basketball team and we did not win at a high level and the fact I can help build (and) experience that, it makes me feel great.”

While making it a complete set of championship rings for all four fingers on his shooting hand, Houck left no doubt as to the veracity for him being this year’s MVP. 

He scored 26 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked two shots in the title game and was the third-leading scorer in the tournament averaging 23 points a game. He also was the outstanding offensive player of the tournament.

“I loved that he was able to win the game this year and get MVP because I think he was deserving of it,” VanMeter said. “I thought he was the best player in the tournament.”

Tournament MVP Rylan Houck (2) drives through the Jacksonville defense on his way to a 26-point night. (Photo by Greg Warren)

Kyler Wright scored 11 points and made several big 3s to answer scores that gave Jacksonville a lead. And don’t-call-him-an-eighth-grader-anymore Jaylen Alexander had 10 points.

Jacksonville was led by recent addition JaLiek Long’s 17 points. Devin Barksdale had 10. John Broom, who had been averaging 19 points in the tournament, was held to nine points but was named the tournament’s outstanding defensive player.

The Jackets made nine straight free throws late in the fourth quarter that seemed to have them on a track to clinching the game, but then they missed four in a row in the final 30 seconds and Jacksonville got right back in it.

Caden Johnson’s put-back got Jacksonville within 64-62. Johnson, who left the game briefly in the second half after hurting his lower right leg, had the ball in his hands for a final shot, but his 3-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer missed just to the left of the goal.

It was the closest boys championship game since Anniston beat Sacred Heart 56-54 in 2014 and only the second decided by two points or less since 1999.

“We stood our ground,” Houck said. “We locked in. We did what we had to do to win.” 

Jacksonville’s Cam Johnson (2) gets a hand on the ball, but Oxford’s Ashton Mitchell still had enough force to complete the dunk. (Photo by Greg Warren)

For Jacksonville, it was another case of an opponent imposing its will and the Golden Eagles never being able to shake it. They’ve lost five games this season and in all five losses the opposition prevented them from getting out and running as they would like.

Games in the 50 and 60s do them no good when they want to play in the 70s, 80s and beyond. But that’s the way Oxford has played everybody this year.

“We didn’t play our game,” Jacksonville coach Shane Morrow said. “We’ve talked about it before. We didn’t run; we didn’t get out and run.

“We talked about it before the game, and today during our PE period. We said it was going to be a battle of wills. We knew they wanted to slow it down and make it a half-court game and we needed to speed it up and we didn’t do it the first half.

“We started speeding them up a little bit in the second half and things started to turn in our favor, but it just didn’t go our way. Give them a lot of credit because they imposed their will. Their defense is tough.”

With the Oxford girls winning their title earlier in the evening, it marked the first time since 2014 (Anniston) the same school swept both crowns and the first time it’s been done by the Yellow Jackets.

Oxford 64, Jacksonville 62
Rylan Houck 9-16 7-9 26, Kyler Wright 4-14 0-1 11, Jaylen Alexander 2-5 4-4 10, Ashton Mitchell 2-2 2-4 6, Zurrell Garrett 2-3 1-2 5, Jayden Lewis 1-1 2-2 4, Michael McGraw 0-4 2-4 2, J.D. Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-45 18-26 64.
JACKSONVILLE – JaLeik Long 6-7 0-2 17, Devin Barksdale 4-7 2-2 14, John Broom 2-8 5-6 9, Caden Johnson 4-10 1-2 9, Cam Johnson 2-9 2-4 7, Quin Long 1-4 1-1 3, Julian Hill 1-5 0-0 3, JaeTaj Morris 0-1 0-0 0, Ethan Duke 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-52 11-17 64.
Oxford                  19   7  18   20   –   64
Jacksonville         17   8  17   20   –   62

3-point goals: Oxford 6-15 (Houck 1-2, Wright 3-10, Alexander 2-3); Jacksonville 11-28 (J. Long 5-6, Barksdale 4-7, Broom 0-4, Cd. Johnson 0-2, Cm. Johnson 1-5, Q. Long 0-1, Hill 1-3). Rebounds: Oxford 32 (Houck 14); Jacksonville 35 (Broom 9, Cd. Johnson 8, Cm. Johnson 6). Fouled out: Cm. Johnson. Total fouls: Oxford 16, Jacksonville 18.

Alex Odam, Piedmont
Caden Johnson, Jacksonville
John Broom, Jacksonville
Cam Johnson, Jacksonville
Ethan Richerzhagen, Faith Christian
Antonio Kite, Anniston
D’Anthony Walton, Alexandria
Julian Wright, Alexandria
Rylan Houck, Oxford
Jaylen Alexander, Oxford
Sean Parnell, Saks
Walker Osteen, White Plains
Kohl Perry, Weaver
Garrett Cranmer, Pleasant Valley
Ethan Fair, Jacksonville Christian
Most Valuable Player: Rylan Houck, Oxford
Outstanding Offensive Player: Rylan Houck, Oxford
Outstanding Defensive Player: John Broom, Jacksonville

Oxford’s Rylan Houck (3) and Kyler Wright reach out to student section to celebrate the Yellow Jackets’ fourth straight County Tournament title. (Photo by Greg Warren)

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