E.A. Sports Today

End of the line

Huffman adjusts to Oxford’ zone, comes to life after scoring its first basket midway through first quarter, eliminates Yellow Jackets in tight regional semifinal

Oxford sophomore post Jayden Lewis (12) made sure he knew where 6-6 Huffman senior Brandon Tinsley was at all times in their Northeast Regional semifinal Thursday. On the cover, the Yellow Jackets take questions after the 57-50 loss.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – The players on the Oxford basketball team will wake up Friday morning to a day unlike any other they’ve experienced in the last four months. There is no practice. There are no meetings. There are no games. The basketball season is over.

The Yellow Jackets’ season, an over-achieving year in every sense for perhaps the youngest Oxford team coach Joel VanMeter has ever had, ended in a familiar place Thursday. After a quick start that definitely got their opponent’s attention, the Jackets fell to Huffman 57-50 in the Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinals at Jacksonville State.

It was the Jackets’ seventh straight appearance in the regionals. It also was the fifth straight year they’ve made their exit in the semifinals, a fact that wasn’t lost on VanMeter. The Vikings, meanwhile, reached the Northeast Regional final for the eighth year in a row; they will play Mountain Brook for the trip to the Final Four Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. 

“I think about that every day,” VanMeter said after he stepped away from the formal post-round interview. “When I’m talking to them in the locker room just a minute ago, it comes down this: We’re not there yet. How much work do you want to put in to get there? And I’m talking about myself as well.

“You see other teams be able to move on and get to the Final Four and you want a piece of that, no doubt. No doubt. But never does it diminish from each group what they were able to accomplish.

“But, yes, I think about that every day. I’m dying to get there, but we’re going to get there based on work. We’re going to earn it and we’re going to earn it with the guys that put in the extra work they need to put in for us to get better. It would help if one of them would grow to be about 6-7.”

The Vikings (22-10) had more experience (12 seniors to 1) and more size, but the Yellow Jackets (15-15) weren’t intimidated and held their own.

Huffman grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, the Jackets had 14. There was one play in the fourth quarter when 6-4 Oxford sophomore Jayden Lewis ripped away an offensive rebound from 6-6 Huffman senior Brandon Tinsley and laid it back in to get the Jackets within seven.

The Jackets were only outrebounded by two in the game. Tinsley had nine boards to go with 11 points, but Oxford’s top three rebounders – freshman Jaylen Alexander, T.J. Allen and Lewis – all smaller in comparison, had 8, 8 and 7, respectively.

In an effort to offset that size, Oxford came out in a matchup zone with “a lot of different rules to it” and it admittedly gave the Vikings fits. The Jackets held Huffman scoreless for the first four minutes of the game, jumping out to an 8-0 lead. It didn’t help the Vikings that they were missing a bunch of shots around the basket they regularly make, but once they scored their first basket, they settled in and it was game on.

“As soon as you stepped on the floor our first thought was to punch them in the throat,” Jackets guard T.J. Allen said. “We had that mentality, went in there and did what we had to do. They started scoring and it went on from there.”

“The 2-3 actually kind of bothered us all year until we made that first shot,” Huffman coach Steve Ward said.

“We’ve seen a bunch of 2-3s this year,” guard Brian Brown said. “A lot of them play it differently depending how they feel they can match up to us. Usually it’s us adjusting at the beginning of the game … but as soon as that first bucket gets in we get normal and get back to executing.”

The adjustments the Vikings made helped them have more success inside, which was the plan all along, and once they took the lead at 15-14 on Tinsley’s layup with 5:21 left in the first half they never trailed again. The Vikings scored 50 points in the paint.

“It was two good teams just punching back and forth,” VanMeter said. “Adjustment here, adjustment there, a lot of times throwing haymakers. At the end of the day, if two or three of our shots go in it’s a little different. Two or three of their shots went in, it’s different.”

Huffman looked to deliver the knockout blow in the third quarter opening as much as a 15-point lead, but the Jackets got off the mat. They staged a wild comeback over the final 90 seconds of their subregional win Tuesday and got this one back within six before the Vikings finally put them away.

“We got fight, man,” Allen said. “We’ve been through so much this year. First of all, few didn’t even think we were going to make it in the area. We fought the whole year for each other; we had each other’s back. Age, senior, freshman, it doesn’t matter. It’s who wants it more.”

And VanMeter will be anxious to see just how much his team wants to get past this roadblock when they get together again.

OXFORD (15-15) –
 Jaylen Alexander 3-11 4-6 10, Caleb Sanders 1-4 2-3 4, T.J. Allen 5-13 1-1 14, Jayden Lewis 4-8 0-1 8, Anthony Davis 0-1 0-0 0, Dashaun Callaway 0-1 0-0 0, Chase Truitt 0-0 0-0 0, Brock Reaves 0-0 0-0 0, Marcus Perry 3-6 0-0 9, Cristian Gibson 2-6 0-0 5. Totals 18-50 7-11 50.
HUFFMAN (22-10) – Brian Brown 5-12 1-2 11, Peyton Wiggins 3-13 1-2 7, Trevion Morris 6-9 2-3 14, Jamarian Ezell 4-7 0-0 8, Brandon Tinsley 4-7 3-6 11, Cyrus Gordon 0-0 0-0 0, Timothy Austin 1-2 0-0 2, Antwan Canady 0-0 0-0 0, Jamel Williams 0-0 0-1 0, Christian Trannon 1-1 0-0 2, Robert Alexander 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 23-53 7-14 57.

Oxford1271318 –50
Huffman7201416 –57

3-point goals: Oxford 7-20 (Alexander 0-2, Sanders 0-2, Allen 3-8, Lewis 0-1, Perry 3-5, Gibson 1-2); Huffman 0-2 (Brown 0-2). Rebounds: Oxford 32 (Alexander 8, Allen 8, Lewis 7); Huffman 36 (Tinsley 9). Total fouls: Oxford 17, Huffman 19. Officials: Epperson, Rutherford, Johnson.

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