OXFORD — Oxford’s boys will match program history by making their third straight Northeast Regional appearance Friday. The Yellow Jackets hope to break through their historical ceiling and make history in Jacksonville.
Zondrick Garrett poured in 27 points Tuesday to lead Oxford to as 76-63 victory over Buckhorn in a 6A Northeast sub-regional game on Larry Davidson Court.
Oxford (24-4) will play Huffman (21-7) on Friday at 10:30 a.m. in Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum. Huffman eliminated Clay-Chalkville 68-63 on Tuesday.
Oxford Yellow Jackets, JSU-bound for third year in a row. pic.twitter.com/XDwT5Esxzk— Joe Medley (@jmedley_star) February 13, 2019
Oxford’s third straight Northeast Regional appearance matches a program feat accomplished under Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame coach Larry Davidson from 1996-98. The Yellow Jackets made the regional final in 1997 and 1998 and again the past two years.
They’ve never made it beyond regional.
“We want to make sure we get it done this time,” senior guard Eugene Leonard said.
Oxford lost Northeast Regional finals against West End-Birmingham in 1997, Woodlawn in 1998 and Parker the past two years. The Yellow Jackets will take what ninth-year coach Joel Van Meter considers his best Oxford team to Jacksonville.
“We’ve got all of the pieces,” he said. “When we’re locked in. We’re pretty good. We’ve got some IQs that understand the importance of what we need to do to be successful.”
It helps that Garrett returned after a half-season at an Atlanta prep school. The 6-foot-6 junior forward played in Jacksonville as a freshman but had to watch from the bench last year, after transferring back to Oxford.
“It was really hard,” he said. “I really wanted to play.”
A year later, Garrett has become an inside-out presence on offense and a defensive force in the post.
Meanwhile, junior Kobe Warren has developed well enough at point to allow Leonard to move off the point.
“It’s helped me out a lot because I’ve been able to sustain my energy,” Leonard said. “It helps me play longer, which helps me out on defense, too.”
It all came together Tuesday. Garrett and forward Roc Taylor made good on Oxford’s height advantage. Taylor scored 19 points. Mont McClendon added 15 points and Leonard 12.
Meanwhile, Van Meter worked different players defending Buckhorn’s Kuran Gardner. He scored 19 points, but the Yellow Jackets worked him.
“Every guy that we put on Kuran Gardner stepped up to the challenge,”Van Meter said. “I thought we stepped up on him.”
Oxford has played to a “connected” theme this season, and the Yellow Jackets connect the parts well. From Garrett’s inside-out scoring game and defense, to Taylor’s rebounding and defense, to the three-guard setup of Leonard, Warren and Mont McClendon, the pieces fit.
“Kobe Warren’s play tonight, you just saw,” Van Meter said. “I’ve watched them on tape just turn guys over constantly. I don’t know how many he scored (two points), but it don’t matter.
“We’ve got the energy of Roc Taylor. Zondrick Garrett changes shots around the rim all night, and then Mont McClendon can make 3s for us, and the little things he does for us on the floor you never really understand, unless you know the game of basketball really well.”
With those pieces and lots of motivation to bust through the regional ceiling, Oxford goes to Jacksonville.
“Now, we’ve got the team,” Garrett said. “We’ve got all the pieces to win state.”