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Chargers drop heartbreaker to Laurel in semifinals

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Senior combo guard Terry Williams dribbles down the court. Williams finished the game with eight points.

Senior combo guard Terry Williams dribbles down the court. Williams finished the game with eight points.

Jared Redding

Jared Redding

Senior combo guard Terry Williams dribbles down the court. Williams finished the game with eight points.

Jared Redding, Sports Editor

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JACKSON — For the first time since 2007, the Oxford Chargers found themselves on the doorstep of the state title game. A decade later, they again fell a game short.

Turnovers and missed opportunities plagued the Chargers as they fell to the defending 5A champion Laurel Tornadoes 67-65 in the MHSAA Class 5A Boys Basketball Semifinal at the Mississippi Coliseum. The Chargers found themselves in a hole early in the contest giving the ball away to Laurel and having to defend Laurel on a frequent basis as a result according to 20th year head basketball coach Drew Tyler.

“We were kind of out of sync on offense. I felt like we were on defense the majority of the night and probably so with that many turnovers,” Tyler said. “I think when you’re coaching on the high school level and the college level, it can come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes. We made too many mistakes down the stretch to be able to win.”

The game marked an end to the career of the best player in school’s history, according to Tyler: Jarkel Joiner. He finished his career scoring 28 points per game and leaving a big impact on the program.

“His [Joiner’s] best basketball is ahead of him,” Tyler said. “Rod Barnes and Cal State Bakersfield has come into Mississippi and stole one of the best basketball players that had come through my program and I think the 2017 Mississippi player of the year. The way he carries himself, he is a great spokesperson for Oxford basketball.”

The 2017 senior class ended their career leading the Chargers to three straight 5A state tournaments. They as a collective group have been a special group according to Tyler.

““I’ve had four great leaders in [Colton] Skidmore, [Cameron] Bailey, Joiner and Williams,” Tyler said. “They have definitely set great examples of how to handle themselves on and off the court, how to get themselves ready for a 6A season. They have been the model basketball players for our program. They are irreplaceable.

The Chargers were up against a loaded Laurel roster, making mass substitutions throughout the night. The Chargers made their first substitution with under a minute left in the third quarter of play when Cameron Bailey filled in for Drew Bianco who had four fouls.

“We’ve done what we’ve done all year, maxing guys out on minutes, actually subbed a little bit more than I have been subbing through district play and the playoffs,” Tyler said. “I have some of the toughest student athletes in the state of Mississippi. I’ve got one of the best baseball players in the south. I have one of the best running backs in the south. I’ve got two of the best combo guards in the south. Then I have one of the best ninth grade football, basketball players there is in the south really. They are tough kids, they are winners so more than they are basketball, baseball, or football players, they are winners.

The game began with Oxford making its presence felt in the paint, giving them a 4-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Then Laurel turned up the heat defensively and attacked the rim during a 9-0 Tornado run that eventually paved the way for a 16-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.

“We were in defenses that were giving up points around the board,” Tyler said. “As far as them exploiting our film, I think some of our breakdowns were out of our zone defense.”

The Chargers clawed their way back into the game early in the second quarter to tie the game at 23, but the Tornadoes once again took advantage of Oxford turnovers and ended the first half on a 7-0 run to give Laurel a lot of momentum going into the locker room at halftime.

Oxford shot 35 percent from the field and eight percent from three point range.

“I wasn’t surprised by anything. They did exactly what we had seen on film,” Tyler said.

The Chargers were facing serious foul trouble midway though the third quarter as Drew Bianco and Hiram Wadlington each had four fouls. This led to Tyler subbing in senior forward Cameron Bailey. He did not disappoint according to Tyler.

“I thought Bailey gave us a lot of energy. He does a lot of dirty work around the rim and definitely helped us out,” Tyler said.

Bailey’s big plays and his team’s hot hands cut Laurel’s lead to 44-43 at the end of the third quarter.

A mid range jumper from Joiner gave the Chargers the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter. The Chargers led 45-44 with 7:44 left in the game.

All of Oxford’s starting five except for Terry Williams were faced with four fouls mid way through the fourth quarter and as a result, Laurel drove to the basket constantly and drawing Charger contact. Laurel’s Dontario Drummond and Troymain Crosby hit key free throws to further themselves away from the Chargers. With the season on the line, Joiner hit a three pointer with 18 seconds left to play to cut Laurel’s lead to one, 63-62. Drummond followed that three pinter up with two made free throws. Joiner had one final chance to tie the game with a three pointer, but it was off target and Laurel hit two more free throws. Joiner did manage to bank in a three pointer at the buzzer, but Drummond’s free throws before that gave Laurel a 67-65 victory.

“We were playing a good team, a disciplined team. They were very patient,” Tyler said.

Laurel will face Neshoba Central for the 5A State Championship on Saturday, March 10, for a possible shot at another state title.

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Chargers drop heartbreaker to Laurel in semifinals