Top-seed Oxford took the court on Monday night with the vision of winning its third consecutive Calhoun County Basketball Tournament and nothing was going to stand in its way, including its opponent, sixth-seed Weaver.
The Yellow Jackets dominated from the tip to final buzzer, winning the game 74-40.
“I think it speaks volumes of those 15 young men,” Oxford coach Joel Van Meter said. “They’ve grinded every single day for three years, since I got the job. It’s rewarding to me because now people are going to talk about these young men. When they talk about Oxford basketball, they’re going to talk about these young guys. When they talk about the county tournament, they’re going to talk about these young men.”
With Oxford holding a 6-0 lead barely a minute into the game, Weaver coach Daryl Hamby called a timeout to reiterate his game plan, but attempts were unsuccessful and the deficit only got worse from there.
“I thought, especially in the first quarter, we didn’t match the physicality and that’s what we have to do a better job of,” Hamby said. “That’s why this is a great learning tool for us and that’s what I told our team.”
The Yellow Jackets cruised through the first half despite struggling to contain guard Chris English, who scored 11 of Weaver’s 17 points at the break.
“I thought we did a great job of putting our pressure on the ball,” Van Meter said. “In constant pressure, guys don’t feel relaxed, and with a player as good as Chris English, if you don’t do that, he can really score some points and hurt you in a lot of ways.”
It was Oxford’s offense that truly put any dreams of Weaver coming back out of reach, scoring 28 points in the third to take a 64-29 lead into the fourth.
“Offensively, I thought we missed some early shots,” Van Meter said. “In the third quarter, I thought we made those shots.”
Despite the 74-40 loss, Hamby said afterward there’s no reason for his players to be upset. There were bright spots in the night, including English’s 19 points and Timothy Hawkins’ 11 rebounds against a much bigger team.
“When these kids look back on it, and I know they’re disappointed now, but when you’re the only team at Weaver to ever beat Anniston and the only team ever to go to the championship, that’s a tremendous feat for these guys to accomplish,” Hamby said.
“We’re really looking forward to the future at Weaver.”
For Oxford, the night was owned by guard Justin Lawler, who played with a jammed middle finger on his non-shooting hand that he suffered in the Yellow Jackets’ semifinal win on Saturday. Along with scoring 19 points against Weaver, the five-year starter was named the tournament MVP.
“It’s my last one so I wanted to go out with a bang,” Lawler said. “It’s been five years and I finally got my MVP trophy.”
With the tournament over, both teams face must-win games this week. Oxford needs a win on the road against Pell City on Tuesday to force a three-way tie in its region.
“We’ll flip a coin for who gets first then we’ll flip a coin for who gets second and third,” Van Meter said. “The home team will obviously host. Us, Clay-Chalkville and Gadsden City, in my humble opinion, are top-10 teams in the state. It’s going to be a war.”
Weaver’s situation is slightly more complicated. The Bearcats need Saks to defeat White Plains on Tuesday, then must beat Saks on Friday to force a three-way tie. A point of optimism for Weaver is Saks is the only team to beat White Plains and the Bearcats are the only team to beat Saks.
“What you have to take away from this are things that you can learn so you can play the Saks and White Plains,” Hamby said. “The most important thing is the area. We want to get back here for the region.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.