E.A. Sports Today

Jackets pull it out

Young guns Alexander, Perry key a late rally that lifts Oxford past Shades Valley for its seventh straight trip to the regionals

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – Joel Van Meter has had some memorable victories during his tenure as Oxford’s basketball coach, but Tuesday night, given the magnitude of the game, may have topped the list.

With their season on the line and two of their top players out of the game, the Yellow Jackets rallied from eight points down with less than 90 seconds to play and edged Shades Valley 55-53 for a spot in the Northeast Regional at Jacksonville State for the seventh year in a row. 

Freshman Jaylen Alexander’s layup with four seconds left was the game-winner.

The Jackets will play Huffman in their regional opener at 1:30 p.m. Thursday as the second part of an Oxford girls-boys doubleheader.

“I can’t put it into words,” Van Meter said of the comeback. “It was just an epitome of these guys. They fought tooth and nail and they’ve never given in on anything. Our coaching staff has done a tremendous job with them and they’ve done a tremendous job of learning and getting better. A group that coming into the season had hardly any experience has gotten back to the tournament. It’s just great for them so that they can have the success that they’ve had.

“I’m just going to compare it to the one we had three weeks ago. We beat Jacksonville for our fifth straight County Tournament and it was an unbelievable win. The County Tournament means so much, but this one sends you further into the post-season and continues your journey to have a chance to win a state championship, so this trumps that, it just does, because it’s post-season play. This is as big a team win as you can have.”

Actually, it’s the third nailbiter the Jackets have pulled out in their last five games. Marcus Perry Jr. beat Gadsden City with a 3 at the buzzer on Jan. 27, the Jackets hit three free throws down the stretch to beat Villa Rica (Ga.) four days later and then there was Tuesday night.

“It tells me I’ve got something I didn’t know I have,” Van Meter said. “They’ve got a lot of toughness and a lot of fight to them. What they’ve got is a ton of pride of playing for Oxford.”

“A lot of people have been doubting us,” Alexander said. “I feel like they look at us as a young team, they probably don’t think we’re going to make as far, but we’ve been taking it all in. We’re just playing.”

Perry got Tuesday’s comeback started with his second 3-pointer of the game. Chase Truitt created a big turnover, Jaylen Alexander hit a couple buckets at the goal, the Jackets got a stop and then Perry hit two free throws to put them up three with less than 30 seconds left.

Shades’ Jamarcus Jackson hit his fourth 3 of the game over a screen from the top of key to tie it at 53. Oxford called time with 12 seconds left to set up the winning play.

When Jayden Lewis fouled out in the third quarter with 18 points, Van Meter told Alexander to “take over the game” and he did. The freshman scored 12 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, most of it with four fouls, including 8-of-8 from the free throw line.

“I asked Jaylen do you want a screen, what do you want,” Van Meter said of the final exchange. “He said, ‘I just want the ball, coach.’”

The Jackets threw it into him, he drove the floor, spun into the lane and laid it in. Shades Valley missed a heavy from midcourt at the horn.

“One of our best players got fouled out, I just had to take over the game,” Alexander said. “I’m trying to play at the next level, so being one of the best players I’ve just got to be a player and go out there and hoop.”

SHADES VALLEY – Carter Berry 2 0-2 4, Jeremiah Williams 4 3-3 12, Jamarcus Jackson 5 0-0 14, Kendarius Irvin 3 4-7 10, Sean Crawford 3 6-9 12, Rashad Bryant 0 0-0 0, Jaidon Marshall 0 0-0 0, Harrison Robinson 0 0-0 0, Ethan Johnson 0 1-2 1. Totals 17 14-23 53.
OXFORD – Jaylen Alexander 5 10-10 21, Caleb Sanders 0 0-0 0, DeShaun Callaway 0 0-0 0, T.J. Allen 1 6-6 8, Chase Truitt 0 0-0 0, Jordan Kelley 0 0-0 0, Jayden Lewis 7 3-7 18, Marcus Perry 2 2-2 8, Cristian Gibson 0 0-1 0. Totals 15 21-26 55.

Shades Valley8121617 –53
Oxford1711621 –55

3-point goals: Shades Valley 5 (Williams, Jackson 4); Oxford 4 (Alexander, Lewis, Perry 2). Fouled out: Irvin, Crawford, Lewis, Gibson. Total fouls: Shades Valley 22, Oxford 21. Officials: Dupree, Childs, Prociuk.

Cover photo of Oxford’s Jaylen Alexander by Mike Lett/Lett’s Focus Photography

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