Hornets ousted from playoffs with 79-57 loss
● By Richard Gaw
Nearly one year ago, Oxford head basketball coach Sean Harvey stood outside his team's locker room at Archbishop Carroll High School in Wayne, and if there was a story line to what had just transpired, it began with the puffy vulnerability in his eyes.
Armed with little more than heart, his Hornets took a highly-talented, nationally-ranked Roman Catholic team from Philadelphia to the final minutes, before losing 48-38 in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. After the loss, Harvey, nearly inconsolable, was asked what he had told his team.
"I told them that I love them," he said.
Last Friday evening, outside his team's locker room at Oxford High School after being defeated by visiting Academy Park, 79-57 on Feb. 13, Harvey's eyes were again streaked with emotion, and little of it had anything to do with the fact that his team had just been eliminated from this year's PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. Rather, it had to do with seeing his seniors – namely, the high-scoring Ryan Hubley – leave the Oxford court for the last time.
The emotions and goodbyes that ultimately followed Oxford's loss were nearly placed on hold by virtue of a strong first quarter by Oxford, who jumped out to a 16-13 lead on the strength of two-three pointers by Tyler Farr – with his second coming with just 35 seconds left.
By the time the second quarter began, however, Academy Park's full-court press resembled that of a giant tarpaulin, snuffing out all potential for Oxford to add to their small lead. The press rattled Oxford, leading to poor passes, interceptions and a slew of turnovers, while the Knights punished the Hornets with five three-pointers, including one by 5' 9" junior guard Jawan Collins, whose jumper from beyond the perimeter with 6:30 left in the half tied the score at 19 and gave Academy Park a lead they would never relinquish.
As Academy Park came out of the locker room holding a comfortable, 41-33 lead to begin the second half, Collins put on an offensive clinic that complemented his team's swarming full-court press. On his way to a game-high 23 points, Collins scored 11 points in the third quarter, penetrating the lane by way of cross-over dribbles, either getting off a series of shots in the paint or deciding to dish the ball to his teammates for easy layups. Early in the third quarter, a three-pointer put Collins over the 1,000-point mark of his three-year career at Academy Park.
In order to prepare for the up-tempo offense of an Academy Park team that is directed by Collins and senior guard Travis Smith, Harvey had put his starters through five-on-eight and five-on-nine scenarios in practice throughout the week.
"I knew what they [Academy Park] were coming in," Harvey said. "It really was trying to control tempo. The offensive rebounds were coming because of their turnovers. We were just out of position. It came down to our turnovers, and they just added numbers on it. We knew that if they can go on a run in bunches, we were going to be in trouble."
By the start of the fourth quarter, the Knights had built a 62-43 lead.
Despite the widening margin of points, Hubley continued to battle for loose balls and do battle against Academy Park center William Hundley, on his way to a 22-point game. However, in the closing moments of the fourth quarter and with the game out of reach, Harvey began showing fans a glimpse of next year's Oxford program by showcasing his underclassmen.
After the graduation this past year of Miles Clark, Musty Mahmud and Jordan Logan – those who served as the Big Three of a 2013-14 squad that cruised to a 22-8 season – there were several with knowledge of Ches-Mont basketball who believed that this year's Oxford squad would be a rudderless ship without sails. In deference to a legion of naysayers, the Hornets finished this season with a respectable 15-9 record, second only to league-leading Octorara, who finished its regular season with a 22-2 record.
"No one outside of here expected them to do as well as they did," Harvey said. "I told them, 'This game does not define your season.' They have to look at the big picture. Every kid in that locker room battled in practice every day. I really am proud of them, and it doesn't matter that they lost their last game. Every team loses their last game, except the state champion."
With less than two minutes left, Harvey replaced Hubley, and embraced him as he left the court.
"The emotions are very similar [to last year]," Harvey said. "I started losing it on the court, thinking about seeing him [Hubley] leave the court for the last time, I thought, 'That's the last time I'm going to see him.' I've seen him grow up from elementary school to now. It's not easy."
In addition to Collins' effort, Academy Park was led by Smith with 17 points, and Hundley, who scored 11 points. The Knights went onto the second round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs, with a game against Conestoga on Feb. 17.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.