By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
WEST POINT – Oxford High boys basketball coach Drew Tyler said he has spent all season coaching every possession of a game.
In his team’s opening-round game of the MHSAA Division 2-5A Tournament, he could finally relax a little bit and let his players take care of business on their own.
With Tuesday night’s 75-39 victory over Saltillo at West Point High School, the top-seeded Chargers advanced to Friday’s division championship game against host West Point and moved one step closer to hosting a Class 5A North Tournament play-in game next Tuesday.
West Point defeated New Hope 53-50 in overtime in Tuesday’s other division tournament contest.
The Chargers beat the Green Wave in a regular-season game last Friday to earn the top seed in the tournament.
“I feel like I’m the sixth man this year,” said Tyler, whose team improved to 15-10 on the year with Tuesday’s win, “because I’m having to coach every play down the court.
“I don’t mind doing it. I’m just as energized as I have ever been.”
The reason behind Tyler having to overly exert himself despite coaching a very successful high school basketball program is because the Chargers have lost several talented players over the years due to graduation.
“We are down,” said Tyler, who’s been at the helm for 14 seasons and is working on winning his 10th division title. “We’ve graduated a lot of talent over the last three years.
“I do think we’re hitting our stride at the right time. … I think you win games on talents and smarts, and we’ve got a little bit of talent and a lot of smarts.
“And we’re starting to use those basketball IQs, so we can be dangerous.”
Boy, did the Chargers – who went 4-2 in the division — look impressive on Tuesday night. They jumped out to a 14-4 lead after the first quarter and continued to score at will inside the paint in the second to lead 38-16 by halftime.
Oxford held a 40-point advantage (68-28) nearly halfway through the fourth quarter.
Justin Fondren led the way with a game-high 21 points, while teammate DeShaun McNeal added 10.
Saltillo’s leading scorers on the night – Jereard Sadler and Austin Wright – only had six points apiece.
“They give us a lot of trouble,” said Saltillo coach Chris Vandiver. “They got size and athleticism and skill.
“Everybody’s talking about them being down, but they won the division and are still playing and got a chance to beat somebody down the road. So, I don’t know how down they are.”
For teams that are down, Saltillo is certainly one. In Vandiver’s first season coaching the Tigers, they were only able to win one game all year.
“Eleven of our 15 players were ninth- and 10th-graders,” Vandiver said. “Basically, the team was brand new this year.
“They didn’t have a lot of experience from the previous year, and it showed a lot. We’re really young, but we’re going to get a lot better. I’m not worried about the future.
“It wasn’t easy to take this year, but we know the future is bright.”
Meanwhile, Oxford has developed into a team that could make a run in the North Tournament.
“I think we’re playing high-percentage basketball right now,” Tyler said, “because my team is really coming to grips with their strengths and their weaknesses.
– (B) West Point 53, New Hope 50 (OT): Cortez Malone couldn’t deliver from five feet away from the hoop at the end of regulation, but fortunately teammate Laquintis Robertson was able to lift the Wave from 15 feet out.
Malone’s driving, one-handed scoop shot to win the game failed to go down at the buzzer in the fourth quarter, but Robertson calmly made three free throws with one second left in overtime to give the Wave a 53-50 victory over rival New Hope.
Robertson scored a game-high 15 points while Malone ended up with 11 for West Point (12-12).
Joe Pilgrim (12) and Jason Tate (10) led New Hope (13-11).
– (G) Oxford 57, New Hope 35: The Lady Chargers produced steals (17) while taking care of the basketball (nine turnovers) to remain perfect against Division 2-5A teams this year.
Erika Sisk’s game-high 19 points and Lameisha Gillom’s 16 allowed for Oxford (23-2 overall) to advance to Friday’s 6 p.m. Division 2-5A Tournament championship game at West Point High School where it will face host West Point.
D.J. Sanders led New Hope (6-16) with 11 points.
– (G) West Point 68, Saltillo 55: Kelsei Ewings (game-high 23 points), Wilma Davis (20) and Nekeisha Walker (12) paved the way for the Lady Wave (19-3).
Carley Bryson tied for a game-high with 23 points while Laken Bryson added 16, but it just wasn’t enough for the Lady Tigers (13-14).