By Richard L. Gaw
When Oxford basketball coach Sean Harvey called a time-out with 2:30 left in last Friday's 77-75 victory over visiting Kennett, his brief meeting was, for many of the players who've been playing for Harvey for four years, just another day at the classroom.
Carrying a 69-66 lead and unable to hold back Blue Demon junior Jackson Hyland from scoring at will, Oxford went into a deliberate stall game, which patiently led to a beautiful feed under the basket from Mustafa Mahmud to Miles Clarke, who then followed up his basket with a steal and subsequent layup that sealed the win.
“We were running our delay game and looking for layups only,” Harvey said. “We've been running that for years. I have a veteran group and they knew what they needed to do. I've been coaching some of them for the past four years, and they all know each others' patterns.”
At first, it may be presumptuous to call four high school seniors “veterans,” but for Mahmud, Clarke, Jordan Logan and Dylan Dunn, the patterns of their symmetry and anticipation of each others' movement on the court is rare to see on the high school level, so it is not surprising to see the Hornets begin the season with an 8-2 overall record, nor was it alarming to see them overcome a determined Kennett squad, whose game in the paint threatened the Hornets all game long.
If the initial strategy of Harvey's squad was to shut down Kennett early with a man-to-man defense and a full-court press, then their intentions fell short, as senior point guard Yohsuke Kobayashi wove his way around defenders to give his team a 10-2 lead midway through the first quarter, highlighted by early three-pointers by Kobayashi and Mike Boulden. With the quarter drawing to a close, Logan found Mahmud on a drive down the lane that gave Oxford a short-lived lead that was erased by a buzzer beater by Kennett's Matt Kelly.
As the second period got underway, Kobayashi again broke an Oxford press which led to baskets by Hyland, Vaughn Jenkins and a three-pointer by Kelly, that extended Kennett's lead to 28-19 with five minutes left in the half. A technical foul on Jenkins, coming on a disputed offensive foul, led to free throws by Logan that cut the Blue Demons' lead to 40-34. On Oxford's next two possessions, three-pointers by Logan and Dunn tied the score, and a gorgeous feed from Logan to Mahmud gave the Hornets a 42-40 lead at halftime.
As the third quarter unfolded, Kennett seemed to answer every Oxford basket with one of their own. Ryan Hubley's tip-in gave the Hornets a 52-48 lead with three minutes left in the third – two of 8 points he tallied in the quarter – but with 25 seconds left and down by three, Kobayashi patiently engineered the last shot, which came on a Hyland layup to bring Kennett within one as the fourth quarter began.
Seconds into the fourth, Kobayashi's alley-oop toss to Jenkins gave Kennett a 57-56 lead, which was quickly followed by a three-pointer by Kennett's Connor McGlone. After Hubley answered with a layup, Clarke drove the lane to tie the game at 62 with a little more than 5 minutes left.
If there was a counterpoint to Kobayashi's quarterbacking, it was Logan, whose shooting, passing and defense eventually led to a lead that Oxford would not surrender. With 3:50 left, his three-pointer gave the Hornets a 65-64 lead, which he followed with a steal and a break-away pass that led to a Dunn layup.
Despite nursing a 73-67 lead with 1:30 left, Oxford's slow-down offense was answered by a Kelly three-pointer and a driving layup by Hyland that cut the Hornets' lead to 75-73 with 17 seconds left. Mahmud was deliberately fouled on the in-bounds play, and a after a missed free-throw, Hubley scored on the rebound with 11 seconds remaining.
Oxford's well-balanced offensive effort was led by Mahmud' with 20 points, Hubley with 19, Logan with 15 and Clarke with 11. For Kennett, Hyland poured in a game-high 27 points, while Kobayashi, Kelly and Jenkins finished with 14, 13 and 12 points, respectively.
After losing to Henderson on Dec. 21, Oxford is now riding a four-game winning streak, and faces Bayard-Rustin on Jan. 14. Kennett, now 5-4 overall, played Bayard-Rustin on Jan. 7 and faces Unionville on Jan. 9.