E.A. Sports Today

Signature Ralph

Graves finds the answer as Gadsden City withstands Alexander’s 33-point gem, seizes momentum for 6A, Area 13 victory at Oxford. Whitfield’s big second half propels Oxford girls.

Cover photo: First-year Gadsden City coach Ralpheal Graves talks during a timeout at Oxford on Friday. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Friday scoreboard

Gadsden City 59, Oxford 56
Pleasant Valley 38, Ranburne 28
Alexandria 60, Southside 37
Glencoe 74, Hokes Bluff 65
Oxford 49, Gadsden City 41
Southside 48, Alexandria 18

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — Raphael Graves pulled a Ralpheal Graves at Oxford on Friday.

The result gave Gadsden City more reason to believe in their first-year coach and Oxford more reason to question after yet another close-game loss.

Javien McCants scored 21 points and James McFadden 20, and the Titans overcame Jaylen Alexander’s 33-point gem and a 12-point, third-quarter deficit to win 59-56.

Playing before a crowd that filled the lower levels and most of the upper levels in the Oxford Sports Arena, and which included several areal coaches whose teams had the night off because of weather-related cancellations an reschedulings, Oxford suffered its 10th loss by six points or less and fell to 9-15 overall, 0-2 in Class 6A, Area 13 play.

“We’ve got to figure out how to win a game … ,” veteran Oxford coach Joel Van Meter said. “We’ve got to get a lot better. I’ve got to figure something else to help them.

“It’s like I’ve told my assistants. I’ve got to figure out something to help us get over the hump.”

Gadsden City improved to 13-9 overall, 2-0 area and its first season under Graves, who coached the late Sacred Heart to four state titles, a runner-up finish and six Final Fours before the Anniston-based school discontinued athletics and, ultimately, closed.

“It’s just been a lot of ups and downs and my players learning how to trust each other, trust me and trust the coaching staff,” Graves said. “It’s been really tough, trying to get that across to them. It’s been a grind.”

Friday’s game marked Gadsden City’s third in Graves’ native Calhoun County this season. The Titans lost to Dothan in the Larry & Connie Davidson Classic at Oxford but beat Jacksonville and Oxford.

“I’m just proud of our boys, because they wanted it so bad,” the Anniston grad and member of Anniston’s 2002 state-title team said. “You can see it on them. They’re just learning how to win and learning how to stick together.

“We’re just going to keep stacking days and days and see what we come up with.”

On the night Jaylen Alexander was recognized for reaching the 1,000-career-point plateau earlier this season, he poured in 33 points against Gadsden City. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Graves had to devise a way to beat Oxford when Alexander produced a performance that justified Van Meter’s dubbing him a “Power 5 player.” The sophomore’s 33 points included a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer, and he swished a halfcourt shot just before the third-quarter buzzer.

“Luck,” Alexander said about his second buzzer-beater of the night.

The rest of his performance was anything but luck. 

“He’s a phenomenal player,” Van Meter said. “We went to a Kiwanis meeting, and I was just telling them, ‘Guys, you need to come and watch him play. You’re looking at a Power 5 basketball player.’

“Two years from now, that’s a Power 5 basketball player.”

Oxford’s Jaylen Alexander shoots his way to 33 points against Gadsden City on Friday. (Photo by Joe Medley)

How did Graves find a way to overcome Alexander’s flex performance? By going to ball pressure and getting the ball out of his hands as much as possible.

“Give Ralph all the credit in the world,” Van Meter said. “Tremendous job. Tremendous job.

“One of his greatest assets, if it’s not his best asset, he can figure out what a team’s weakness is. … 

“What he did with us was, he got the ball out of ‘zero’s’ hands as much as he could. Jaylen was still able to go a little bit, but he got it out of Jaylen’s hands, and when he got it out of Jaylen’s hands, somebody else had to go make a play. We didn’t do enough of that.”

Gadsden City’s resurgence started in the third quarter, briefly interrupted by Alexander’s halfcourt shot to give Oxford a 45-38 lead.

As the arena reacted to Alexander’s long-ball success, Graves came out from the bench to greet his players with a big smile and high-fives. Oxford had won the moment, but Gadsden City had already won momentum.

“If he’s hitting halfcourt shots, you can’t get mad,” Graves said. “It’s just a good night for him.

“He made the shot, and all of our boys, you could see that their morale was, like (down). 

“There wasn’t nothing you could do about that. Just high-five it and move on to the next play.”

Ironically, the Titans took the lead while Alexander briefly left the game with an apparent injury. He stopped while dribbling the ball upcourt, went down and lost the ball, resulting in a Gadsden City layup to bring them within 48-46.
“I slipped on a wet spot and rolled my ankle,” Alexander said. 

Alexander limped off the court. He missed less than a game minute of action, but re-entered at 4:03, with Gadsden City leading 49-48.

The final four minutes was a toggle between Alexander’s successes and Gadsden City’s successes, after those moments when it could pressure the ball into someone else’s hands.

“Our offense was stagnant in the first half because of their zone,” Graves said. “They did really well, but when we turned up the pressure on defense, it kind of got us in a rhythm, offensively.

“I would credit the boys. We made the call, and they answered it.”

Xai Whitfield shoots on the way to 37 points against Gadsden City on Friday at Oxford. She scored 28 points in the second half. (Photo by Joe Medley)


OXFORD 49, GADSDEN CITY 41: The night’s other big individual performance for Oxford (9-11, 1-1 area) stood up, as Xai Whitfield scored 28 of her 37 points in the decisive second half.

The Tennessee State signee scored 16 of Oxford’s 17 points in the third quarter, after Oxford clung to a 33-32 lead at halftime.

“At halftime, I was like, I want to win. I want to win area, so I’ve got to do something to help the team,” Whitfield said.

Whitfield’s big second half, which included two of her three 3-pointers, came after a brief conversion with Oxford coach Melissa Bennett, after the team came back out of the locker room to warm up for the second half.

“I didn’t say anything in front of the girls,” Bennett said. “When we came back out, I told her to keep taking her outside shots.

“They would fall, and they would start running out at her out on the perimeter, and it was start opening up the inside. How she attacked in the second half was how we were trying to attack the whole game.”

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