(By Scott M. Burnstein For Media News Group)
Their play was piercing and spoke volumes. One championship down, another firmly in their sights.
Sharp as a razor blade from the opening tip, the Oxford Wildcats went into a raucous Cy Green Gymnasium at Pontiac High School Tuesday night and cut up the host-Phoenix 76-39 in a game for first place in the OAA Blue. While securing at least a share of only its second league banner on the boys hardwood in the last 40 years, Oxford (18-1) set a new program-record for single-season victories.
"An incredible effort, just a fantastic job all the way around," Oxford head coach Steve Laidlaw said. "We couldn't have executed any better on both ends of the floor. These guys embraced the pressure of the situation and just got it done in every way possible tonight in a pretty intense environment."
The emphatic nature of the win serves notice to two-time defending state champion Clarkston that the upstart Wildcats will be far from a pushover if the two meet for a district crown next week. Pontiac (17-2) beat Clarkston 63-59 in early December, but the "three-peat" driven Wolves haven't lost since.
On Tuesday, Oxford was scalding hot from the first quarter onward, quickly deflating Pontiac and its' capacity crowd and buzzy atmosphere the likes of which the hoops-starved city hadn't seen in at least a decade, with rapid-fire efficiency. Playing loose, yet disciplined, the Wildcats went ahead 23-6 after the first quarter and 39-19 at the half. Junior forward Trey Townsend tossed in 15 of his 19 points in the first half for Oxford.
Wildcats' senior center Mike Raisch was a monster the whole night, ripping off a spirited 21 points and 12 rebounds and per usual was the club's heart and soul. Raisch's tip-in off a Townsend miss started the second half and Oxford was off to the races. His two straight buckets ended the third quarter, a crafty baseline drive for a hoop followed by an acrobatic reverse lay-up to beat the buzzer and give the visitors a 62-28 advantage.
"This is just the beginning," said a confident Raisch. "We've been waiting for these type of games, these type of moments for a long time and now that they're here we want to make the most of them. We know nothing's easy, we want to work for everything we get. Tonight, we went to work."
Zach Townsend, Trey's little brother, posted 15 points in the win. Oxford finishes the regular season Thursday at home for a Senior Night affair against Hazel Park, looking to lock up the OAA Blue outright.
Resurgent Pontiac was paced by DeVeaun Cole's 20 points Tuesday. D.Q. Cole, DeVeaun's cousin and the Phoenix's top scorer, was held to 11. The Phoenix lost three players for the rest of the season last week, including star center Cleonte Brown, after they were involved in a fight in school. The Phoenix shot a scant 20 percent from the field in Tuesday's loss.
"We need to rediscover our identity as a ball club, because right now I don't know what it is," Pontiac head coach Joel Schroeder said.
Pontiac's only two defeats of the year came to Oxford. This winter, Schroeder has breathed new life into a historic basketball town that had fallen on hard times.
"The city wants to get behind us, if you give them a reason to, they'll come out in droves like you saw tonight in an overflowing gym," he said. "We were brutal tonight, plain and simple."
(Photo Cred. - TZR Sports)