Posted: Mar 08, 2019
A historic season of Oxford basketball met its untimely end Thursday as the Wildcats squandered a 10-point halftime lead in a Division 1 regional final and fell to Howell, 42-37.
From the very start of the third quarter, the tide began to turn against Oxford. A spate of turnovers by the Wildcats accelerated their demise, while the Highlanders closed off many of the shooting opportunities that were present for Oxford in the opening half.
"That third quarter, we couldn't buy a bucket, couldn't get to the free throw line. (I'm) not sure whether we were fouled or not," Wildcats coach Steve Laidlaw said. "We couldn't get to the free throw line. We shot two the whole game. They shot 16 or 18, something like that. When a team shoots that many more free throws than you, you're not going to win many games … We lost our composure."
Howell took its first lead of the night early in the fourth quarter and didn't relinquish it.
Oxford pulled within three on a 3-pointer by Michael Raisch with 29 seconds left and had a chance at a tying basket after Howell missed the front of a 1-and-1 free throw situation. The Wildcats couldn't convert, however, giving the Highlanders their first trip to the state quarterfinals since 2014.
"In the first half, I thought (Oxford) did a good job of making some tough shots. I'd say they got a couple of better looks than we'd like to give them early and they got a lot of confidence from that," Howell coach Nick Simon said. "We were trying to not switch off (Trey Townsend) in the first half. In the second half, we switched everybody and we pressured more. That really got them out of their flow. They couldn't get as many open looks because they couldn't get the ball into their offense."
At halftime, the Wildcats appeared to be on track to win the school's first regional final since 1926. Oxford shot 5-of-9 from behind the arc in the first half and held Howell to just 13 points, but it couldn't sustain momentum, especially once the Highlanders' home crowd was given something to cheer for.
"We had great third quarters the entire district and regional (semifinal), but tonight we didn't. It's disappointing. They upped it a notch, Howell, give them credit," Laidlaw said. "I'm proud of our kids. Michael Raisch was a beast. It was a fun game, a fun environment. It was hard to call sets in that environment so we struggled with that. That hurt us."
Oxford's Raisch recorded a double-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Junior Trey Townsend and sophomore Zachary Townsend added nine and eight points, respectively.
The Wildcats concluded the season with a 23-2 record, having captured the OAA Blue Division crown, the school's first district title since 1993, and the program's first regional semifinal win since 1948.
"I knew we were going to be good," Laidlaw said of his preseason expectations. "When we lost to Ferndale (on Feb. 8), how we bounced back was so impressive. Then when we went into Pontiac and beat them by 30-something on a running clock, these kids realized how good they were. That district was a beast. We were outstanding Tuesday against Milford. In the first half, we were incredible tonight. We were dialed in defensively. I'm proud of our kids. They gave this community something we'll never forget."
"The seven seniors, all were part of the playing rotation and each had big, big moments. They bought in on Day 1 when I came here."
(By Dan Fenner for MediaNews Group)
(Photo Cred. - TZR Sports)