E.A. Sports Today

‘Sick’ performance

Oxford’s Alexander fights through feeling bad to have his own big-time Flu Game against Alexandria in the county tournament semifinals

Oxford’s Jaylen Alexander (0) puts up a shot against the defense of Alexandria’s Kory Cargal during their Calhoun County boys semifinal game Thursday. Alexander scored 25 of his game-high 32 points in the second half of the Yellow Jackets’ victory. (Photos by Greg Warren)

Thursday’s Boys Semifinals
Oxford 52, Alexandria 37
Jacksonville 81, Piedmont 59
Friday’s Championship
Oxford vs. Jacksonville, 8 p.m.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – Every player worth his salt is due one flu game in their careers. It’s one of the defining moments that cements their legacy as a great one.

Oxford freshman Jaylen Alexander had his Thursday night.

Conjuring up visions of the famous Michael Jordan “Flu Game” of the 1997 NBA Finals, Alexander overcame being “a little sick” to bounce back from a bad game two nights earlier with 32 points and nine rebounds to lead second-seeded Oxford over Alexandria 52-37 in the first boys semifinal of the Calhoun County Tournament.

The win propelled the Yellow Jackets into Friday’s 8 p.m. championship game against either top-seeded Jacksonville or Piedmont with a chance to get one for the thumb and win a record-setting fifth straight county tournament crown.

“I think I had a ‘flu game;’ I feel a little sick,” Alexander said. “My nose is running. I was coming into the game one nose stopped up, throat sore, I just played through it, though.

“I know Michael Jordan is a great player, I look up to him. He inspired me to hoop. If I could (play this way all the time feeling bad), it looks like I would.”

Oxford coach Joel Van Meter couldn’t immediately recall the last player he had who played a big game while fighting through an illness, but he knows the most famous.

“Playing sick? Michael Jordan, played with the flu, put on a show,” he said. “I know I’ve had guys who whether it was sick or some type of bump or bruise or whatever or something else away from the court going on, those are the nights that seem like they shine the most.

“I’ve been on teams before where maybe something happened to a family member and they come out and put on a clinic. I remember at Jax State, Walker Russell had something with one of his family members and Coach (Mike) LaPlante was like you don’t have to play if you don’t want to and he comes out and has a triple-double. I think the great players are able to focus that even more into playing at their highest level.”

It was slow going at the start with both teams struggling to score, combining for a mere 30 points in the 32 combined first-half minutes. Oxford held a 21-20 lead with 5:30 left in the third quarter and then things quickly changed.

Fueled by their defensive intensity, the Jackets scored 14 straight points and held the Valley Cubs off the board until a minute remained in the quarter (when Drake Davis hit one of his four 3-pointers) to take control. Defensive specialist Cristian Gibson, just minutes after knocking heads with Cubs forward T.K. Downie in the backcourt beside the press table, fueled the flurry with three straight steals, two of which he converted into layups.

“Coach Van was always so hard on us on defense, so we just made sure we increased our defensive intensity and that’s how we got a whole bunch of turnovers,” Gibson said. “It felt amazing. I can’t even describe it. It was a good feeling.”

In the middle of the exchange, Alexander drove the lane and scored, Gibson had a steal and a layup, and Alexander had a steal and a layup. In a span of about 30 seconds, the lead went from five to 11.

“Wasn’t that a vast difference from the first half?” Van Meter said. “Six points in 30 seconds and the halftime is 30 points total. I thought our pressure was getting to them, and I thought our guys were starting to get some confidence in what we’re doing because we’re able to win some games.”

This night belonged to Alexander. The freshman had only one field goal and six points in the Jackets’ tournament opener against Faith Christian. He had Oxford’s first six points of the game Friday. He scored 25 in the second half. He had more points than Alexandria as a team with two minutes left in the game.

“I thought Jaylen played about as bad as he could play the other night,” Van Meter said. “I’ve said this before: Remember his name because you’re going to know him. That’s who he is.

“He ain’t going to follow it up with another dud. He’s going to come out and he was on a mission. He and I talked that he let his guard down a little bit and it doesn’t matter how good you are, when you do that, you get exposed; I don’t care who you play. I think he realized that and I thought he bounced back tonight with a purpose.”

ALEXANDRIA – Drake Davis 5 0-0 14, Evan Snow 2 0-0 4, Antonio Ross 0 0-2 0, T.K. Downie 0 2-2 2, Jaylen Henderson 2 0-0 5, Kory Cargal 1 2-2 4, Cleat Forrest 0 0-0 0, Quen McDowell 4 0-0 8. Totals 14 4-6 37.
OXFORD – Jaylen Alexander 12 6-8 32, Caleb Sanders 0 0-0 0, T.J. Allen 0 1-2 1, Jordan Kelley 1 0-0 2, Jayden Lewis 4 1-6 9, Cristian Gibson 4 0-0 8. Totals 21 8-16 52.
Alexandria     11         5          9          12 –     37
Oxford            4          10        24        14 –     52
3-point goals: Alexandria 5 (Davis 4, Henderson); Oxford 2 (Alexander 2). Total fouls: Alexandria 17, Oxford 12.

Cristian Gibson (23) tries to keep Alexandria’s Drake Davis from getting to the basket. The Oxford guard made three consecutive steals early in the second half to touch off the sequence that gave the Yellow Jackets control of the game. (Photo by Greg Warren)

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