The Yellow Jackets picked up two wins this past week, the biggest of which came Saturday night. Oxford defeated Piedmont 42-39 at Pete Mathews Coliseum to capture the county tournament title in a hotly contested ball game.
“With a young team, it’s always a maturation process,” Oxford coach Joel Van Meter said. “But I think we grew up a little in this tournament, learned how to win close games. In the moment, guys made plays.”
Point guard Justin Lawler led the way for Oxford (12-8), scoring nearly half of the Yellow Jackets points with 20 big ones to steer Oxford to the victory.
“Tremendous,” Van Meter said of Lawler’s play in the final. “All I ask him to do is play every minute of every game and he does everything I ask of him. He’s a pretty good player, too, and he’s just a sophomore.”
Lawler kept his hot hand going from the night before when he dropped seven points on White Plains in the first quarter and finished with 12 in the half in the Yellow Jackets’ 55-33 victory in the semifinals but failed to score the rest of the game.
“I still felt it from last night and got it going again tonight,” Lawler said. “I saw that when I didn’t score in the first half last night that the game got close. So, I knew I needed to score a little more points in the second half.”
Lawler’s 3-pointer with 4:47 to play capped an 8-0 run that gave the Yellow Jackets a 42-34 lead. It wound up being the last points Oxford would score in the game.
Piedmont decreased Oxford’s lead to six with a lay-up by Noah Willis with 4:28 to play and a 3-pointer by Jamaal Johnson with 2:24 made the score 42-39.
Neither team would score from that point on.
Johnson made a steal and had a clear path to the basket but missed on a one-handed dunk attempt with 1:12 to play that would’ve shrunk Oxford’s lead to one and the Yellow Jackets gathered the rebound.
The Bulldogs (15-7) would have two more opportunities to tie the game but Johnson appeared to stumble while driving to the basket. Oxford’s Kwon Alexander, who was named the Defensive Player of the Tournament, gathered the steal.
Alexander finished with just two points but provided solid man-to-man defense on Johnson throughout the game.
“I don’t think it’s any question that Kwon Alexander can defend anyone in the state as athletic as he is,” Van Meter said.
Piedmont’s Willis failed to connect on a 3 from the top of the key to tie the game with three seconds remaining.
“Guys missed a lot of shots that they normally make but those are big-game shots,” Piedmont coach Tommy Lewis said. “Some guys started to press but it’s hard not to. That happens sometimes when you’re out there trying hard.”
Johnson scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to go along with five steals and four blocks before fouling out with 16.5 seconds to play and was named Offensive Player of the Tournament.
Sloan Garner had eight points and point guard Derrick Jackson added seven for the Bulldogs.
Oxford power Dion Hobdy was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. He scored nine points in the final and was instrumental in the Yellow Jackets’ wins against No. 15 Faith Christian, No. 7 Jacksonville and No. 6 White Plains.
“We’ve got all the confidence in the world now,” Hobdy said. “This is just one stepping stone. We’ve got to finish the season off right. We’re trying to go all the way this year.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.