Click on the screen on this page to see highlights from Thursday morning's state quarterfinal game.
By Paul Keane
JACKSON — Despite battling foul trouble throughout the game and trailing by nine points with 4:16 left, Wayne County High School’s varsity boys basketball team made he defensive stops it needed to in order to take a 57-56 win over Oxford Thursday morning in the Class 5A quarterfinals at Jackson State University.
The victory improved the War Eagles to 18-13 overall and sets up an 8 p.m. Tuesday semifinal showdown against Ridgeland game. The winner of that game will face the winner of the Laurel-Callaway semifinal in the state championship game at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 13.
The War Eagles trailed, 50-41, with 4:16, left strong defense led to an 8-0 run to make it a one-point ballgame. From there, WCHS held by tying the score at 52-52 and again at 56-56 with 17 seconds left. RaDarrius McFarland then stole a pass and was fouled while driving to the lane. He hit his free throw to make it 57-56. His second free throw missed its mark and an apparent jump ball was awarded to the Chargers after the OHS bench called a timeout.
A last-second desperation shot missed its mark.
“Our defense has always been there, and that is what we build everything around,” said WCHS Head Coach Kendrick Davis. “We try to get stops so we can out and run, and we were able to make the stops down the stretch.
“Oxford is a great team, and we knew they would be tough. You have to take your hats off to Oxford, but our guys fought hard in the fourth quarter and they’ve worked their butts off ever since the summer.”
Davis said he wasn’t overly worried about the late deficit, pointing out to this players that they have been in these situations before, even recently in two of the last three playoff games.
“I just kept telling the guys to remember Laurel and Brookhaven,” Davis said of two playoff games that were closed after the War Eagles had trailed late. WCHS beat Brookhaven to reach the quarterfinals but lost a heartbreaker to Laurel in the district tournament championship game. “I told the kids that we’ve been here before and we know what to do.”
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with the lead changing hands three times and being tied on two other occasions as the War Eagles battled through foul trouble, particularly in the first quarter.
By the end of the first eight minutes of play, WCHS had five team fouls while the Chargers had none. By the 6:55 mark of the second quarter, Oxford was already in the bonus, something the War Eagles never had the luxury of enjoying as OHS was whistled for only four team fouls in the entire first half.
That didn’t deter WCHS, though, as the War Eagles used a 12-7 rebounding edge to help overcome the disparity in fouls along with 10 turnovers to remain close to Oxford.
The Chargers jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead before Tramond Lofton hit a jumper with 6:27 left to make it 4-2. Trailing by a 6-2 margin, the War Eagles put together a quick 7-0 run behind a three-pointer from Reggie Stewart and buckets from Lofton and Devin Paicely-Smith, giving WCHS a 9-6 lead.
Oxford slowly chipped away at the deficit, eventually tying things at 13-13 when Josh Gibbs converted a three-point play with 1:23 left. A pair of free throws from Tarrance Davis made it 15-13 before Stewart drained another three-pointer to make it 16-15 by the end of the quarter.
Stewart would drain another trey to start the second quarter, only to see Oxford put together a 5-0 run to take a 20-19 lead with 6:36 left in the half. Paicely-Smith’s three-pointer made it 22-20, but Oxford again used a 5-0 run to regain the lead. From there, the two teams traded buckets until Stewart drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to set the halftime margin at 30-29 Chargers.
The third quarter saw the two teams trade points until the Chargers put together a 6-0 run to make it 38-31 with 3:39 remaining in the stanza. Despite buckets from Tevin Smith and Paicely-Smith, the War Eagles trailed by a 40-37 margin heading into the final quarter of play.
Going into that final period, the War Eagles had been whistled for three fouls while Oxford had yet to be called for a foul in the second half.
Again, the two teams traded points in the early going before the Chargers used a 7-0 run to make it 50-41 with 4:16 remaining. That’s when the WCHS comeback began in earnest.
Paicely-Smith threw down a dunk to end a scoring drought of 2:03 for WCHS, then RaMeik Wallace hit a jumper before Paicely-Smith scored on a layup and Tevin Smith hit a jumper to make it 50-49 with 2:00 left.
Stewart would drain a three-pointer to make it 49-50, then Wallace hit a jumper to set the score at 55-54 Oxford with 35 seconds remaining. Tevin Smith’s jumper at the 17-second mark knotted the score up at 56-56, then McFarland picked off a pass and raced up court before being fouled.
For the game, Paicely-Smith led the way with 19 points while Stewart added 15, Tevin Smith scored nine, Tramond Lofton added eight and Wallace poured in five.