E.A. Sports Today

Dead end

Huffman’s press, traps overwhelm Oxford girls in Northeast Regional semifinals: ‘It’s tough for them to go out like that’

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — It was hard enough for Melissa Bennett to look at the end of her bench and see woosy senior Justice Woods, hands on head and working with a trainer.

Pulling seniors LaMya McGrue and Keziah Mickler out with 54 seconds left in a grueling, turnover-bespeckled, 55-32 loss to Huffman in Thursday’s Northeast Regional semifinals was about all Bennett could take.

She composed herself as they approached her then wrapped an arm around each one.

“When you have that bond with kids, and you spend that many hours together, you don’t want to see them go,” Bennett said. “You definitely don’t want to see them go out like that.”

The end of the road for the reigning Class 6A state runner up felt like a sudden dead end, situated after a blind curve. Huffman took 57 shots to Oxford’s 32, nearly matching the scoreboard. 

Battling Huffman’s relentless length and pressure, Oxford (20-10) committed 34 turnovers.

Huffman (26-4) scored as many points off turnovers as the Yellow Jackets scored points while earning a shot at Parker in Tuesday’s 12:30 p.m. regional final.

Pressure is Huffman’s game.

“That’s definitely our bread and butter,” Huffman coach Lin Slater said. “I told the girls before the game, we were going to play the way we’ve been playing all season. …

“We play off of our defense. Our defense is what gets us going.”

Oxford began to solve the press in the second half but struggled to handle Huffman’s relentless, suffocating halfcourt traps. 

It was hard enough for the usual ball handlers, like guard Woods and McGrue and swing Xai Whitfield. They combined for 19 turnovers.

Jamea Gaston, a 5-foot-2 shooting guard, had double struggles.

“I just saw how long they were,” she said. “For me, I’m short. I can’t see over them. If I was getting trapped or something, I really couldn’t see.”

It didn’t help that Woods got in foul trouble. She got her third foul at 2:53 of the second quarter and went to the bench to avoid getting her fourth before halftime.

From that point forward, the game began to look on the scoreboard like it looked on the court.

Oxford led 15-10 on a Whitfield jumper at 4:15, but Huffman ended the quarter with a 14-0 run to lead 24-15 at halftime.

Oxford adjusted to the press and opened the third quarter with a brief surge. A Gaston three and Woods layup closed the gap to 24-20.

“We moved a big in the press break,” Bennett said. “When we would get it there, it made it a little easier to break their press.
“We didn’t always get into it as quickly as we needed to.”

After the brief surge, the Yellow Jackets reached the blind curve, followed by the dead end.

Huffman led 45-22 at the end of the third.

Adding injury to insult, Woods wound up on the floor after a hard foul from Jamiria Jones with 2:03 left in the game. Bennett and a trainer tended to her as she lay on the floor, holding both hands to her head.

The senior walked and spent the rest of the game on the bench, with the trainer. Bennett said Woods had a concussion.

“Justice got thumped in the head pretty good there, so she didn’t even really get the applause there at the end that she has earned,” Bennett said.

So ended the run for a senior group that also included McGrue, Mickler and Shaiya Calloway. They helped Oxford achieve its first three Northeast Regional berths since 2002, a regional tile and one “red map” trophy as the 2022 6A state runner up.

“Not many people can say that,” Bennett said. “It’s a very special class, and it’s tough for them to go out like that.”


OXFORD (20-10) – Xai Whitfield 2-6 1-2 6, Justice Woods 2-5 4-4 8, LaMya McGrue 1-5 2-2 4, JaMea Gaston 2-11 0-0 6, Kaylen Kenney 0-2 0-0 0, Keziah Mickler 1-1 4-6 6, Brionna Wilson 0-1 0-0 0, Shaniya Calloway 0-0 0-0 0, Jaslyn Montgomery 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 9-32 11-13 32.
HUFFMAN (26-4) – Tamiria Jones 7-11 3-3 17, Destinee Nelson 4-12 5-6 14, Jamiria Jones 4-11 0-1 8, Tanyah Lockhart 3-8 1-2 7, Alesha Canady 4-15 1-4 9, Jada Kelser 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-57 10-16 55.

Oxford 8710 – 32
Huffman7172110 – 55

3-point goals: Oxford 3-13 (Whitfield 1-2, Woods 0-3, Gaston 2-8); Huffman 1-9 (Nelson 1-5, Jones 0-3, Lockhart 0-1). Rebounds: Oxford 32 (Whitfield 6); Huffman 34 (Jones 8, Lockhart 8). Total fouls: Oxford 18, Huffman 16. Officials: McKinney, Randolph, Baker.

Cover Photo: Oxford coach Melissa Bennett and players (from left) JaMea Gaston and Xai Whitfield talk to press after the Yellow Jackets’ loss to Huffman in Thursday’s Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinals.

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