Quen Williams drilled a fall-away 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds to play [ video ], and Sacred Heart ended Oxford’s run of county titles 58-57 in Friday’s boys semifinals in Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
The Cardinals (19-5) will play Anniston in the final Saturday at 8 p.m., after the Bulldogs defeated Alexandria in overtime, 80-78.
Oxford, which won the past three county titles but is rebuilding after losing 10 seniors from the 2012 county championship team, fell to 6-20 in one of the best county-tourney games in recent memory.
Williams’ shot launched a wild celebration in the Sacred Heart cheering section. He had a crowd of fans waiting to embrace him after he completed a postgame TV interview on the court.
“It means a lot,” Williams said. Playing in the county championship “is something we’ve never done before. This team brought it today, and we get rewarded tomorrow to play in the championship game.”
No 1A team has won the Calhoun County Tournament, which is notorious for early-round blowouts in games involving big and small schools.
Then again, Sacred Heart is no ordinary 1A team. The Cardinals have beaten 6A teams this season and have one of the county’s best players in Williams.
“As hard as these kids work, I just want the focus to get away from what size school we are,” Sacred Heart coach Ralphael Graves said. “If you work hard, and you’re committed to what you do, and you believe in what you do, and you trust it, anything can happen.”
Still, he considered beating Oxford a getting-over-the-hump accomplishment.
“There are a couple of schools in the county we haven’t beaten, and Oxford was one of them,” Graves said. “I think the kids believed that they could beat them, but, until you actually do it, it really doesn’t matter.
“But they did it.”
Williams led the way with 21 points. Diante Wood added 13 with five rebounds and five assists, and Kevion Nolan had 11 points with five assists.
Freshman Querriun Mason led Oxford with 19 points. Deon Wright, the lone returning player with varsity experience, added 13, and Solomon Shadrix scored 12 despite battling a stomach virus for two days.
Williams could have had one more point after absorbing contact from Wright on the game-winning shot but purposely missed the ensuing free throw with 0.6 seconds left, denying Oxford the chance to inbound the ball and get a desperation shot up.
The stage was set when Mason hit a layup to break a 55-55 tie.
Oxford had just three personal fouls, well short of the number needed for Sacred Heart to shoot bonus free throws, so Wright quickly fouled with 0.9 seconds left.
“We had two or three fouls to give,” Oxford coach Joel Van Meter said. “I went over to the official and said, ‘As soon as they throw it in, we’re going to foul, because we’ve got fouls to give.’ The kid catches the ball, and Deon fouls him.”
During the ensuing timeout, officials added time to the game clock, and Sacred Heart had 2.1 seconds to get a shot off.
“I’m curious about that myself,” Van Meter said. “I was trying to get my team ready, and I didn’t get an explanation and was more worried about getting them ready.”
Williams caught the inbounds pass at the right elbow, about 25 feet out, while running toward the sideline. He immediately jumped, spun and let fly while taking contact from Wright.
“Coach told me to go, told me to shoot, and I shot it,” Williams said. “I did my best, and it went in.”
Wright tried to foul before Williams got into his shooting motion. The Yellow Jackets hoped to use their free fouls to foul the remaining time away.
“The official told me that he was already in his motion for shooting,” Van Meter said. “That’s his call, and then the kid made a great shot. We tried to execute what we do, and the kid just made a great play.
“When you play in a game like this, with this atmosphere, and that shot beats you? You feel like you’ve given everything that you can give.”
So ends Oxford’s reign over a tournament the school’s boys’ team has won 17 times. The Yellow Jackets beat Piedmont, Anniston and Weaver in the past three finals and won the 2013 final by 34 points. They were going for their first four-peat since 1961-64.
“It’s a tough loss. What can I say?” Wright said. “We prepared hard, played hard and just didn’t come out with the win.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.