Oakwood's Wise heeds sage advice

Oakwood's Wise heeds sage advice

DANVILLE — This happened 13 days ago in Fithian.

On Jan. 5, Oakwood boys' basketball jumped out to a massive advantage before Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin clawed back through a suffocating press and conversion of critical baskets. The Comets managed to escape with a 75-74 triumph.

The scene unfolded Thursday night in the Vermilion County Tournament. And, again, Oakwood managed to stave off BHRA. But instead of just a regular-season win, the Comets earned their first event title shot since 2005.

Senior Cameron Wise nailed a three-pointer with 11 seconds remaining in regulation, his fifth of the game, lifting Oakwood to a 52-49 victory over the Blue Devils at Palmer Arena.

"That last possession, I was kind of just hoping for overtime," Comets coach Craig Black said. "I thought we did a good job taking care of the ball. I thought Cameron stepped into (the shot), he was open, he has confidence and he knocked it down. Biggest shot of his life."

Hanging on to the rock was actually a major sticking point for Oakwood (10-8) down the stretch against BHRA (12-7). After using a 16-0 run in the second quarter to create a 35-11 halftime advantage, the Comets were stymied by the Blue Devils' potent defense.

Every time an Oakwood athlete handled the ball, he was immediately swarmed by two opponents. BHRA senior Wyatt Edwards frequently was the beneficiary, netting 15 points in the final period alone.

"I think their press got to us a little bit," Wise said. "They upped their pressure and went to man, and it got to us a lot more. We've got to work on that because a lot more teams will start doing that to us."

Though Edwards finished with 20 points and senior Jared Dazey added another 16, the Blue Devils were hampered by multiple shots that went begging off the side or front of the rim.

That, paired with Oakwood's greater size under the basket, kept BHRA from ever taking off even when it slowed the Comets.

"I just told them we were going to press the rest of the way and just needed to see a lot of effort," Blue Devils coach Gary Tidwell said. "Lay it all on line and give it their best shot. That showed a lot of maturity on their part. I can't make shots for them, and I can't shoot for them, but I can put them in a position to win a basketball game."

Oakwood aided BHRA's mission not only by feeding right into Tidwell's defensive strategy, but also by responding with a bevy of fouls. Seniors Chase Vinson and Skylar Bolton and junior Drew Priest all reached five fouls before the final whistle.

"I was scared, I'm not going to lie," Black said. "But those guys that came in (off the bench) did a good job. I was definitely nervous there. I was wanting that clock to keep ticking."

And tick it did. Wise conclued with 17 points, while junior Bryce Jones contributed 10 off the bench to give Oakwood a chance to snag both county crowns. The school's girls compete against BHRA today with a repeat championship performance on the line, while the male Comets will aim to fulfill a lifelong dream when they square off with Salt Fork on Saturday.

"It's what we all wanted since we were in grade school," Wise said. "We just wanted to have a chance to play and win that championship."

Storm earn win. Senior Brady McMasters shone brightest for the Storm, piling up 24 points as Salt Fork secured its first county title game berth since 2013 with a 57-48 win against Hoopeston Area.

Storm coach Andrew Johnson said having a player like McMasters was necessary for Salt Fork (16-3) to pull out a win against Hoopeston (15-6).

"Hoopeston runs a really good defense, and you're not going to beat that style of defense without having a point guard who knows where everybody needs to be," Johnson said. "He did a good job all night of being aggressive, and his ability to finish around the rim was phenomenal. A guy like that is really irreplaceable as a senior leader."

Sophomore Payton Taylor added 13 points for the Storm, while senior Blaize Griffin potted 12 as Salt Fork bumped and bruised Hoopeston in the paint to tally many of its points.

This fact didn't go unnoticed by Cornjerkers coach Matt Colston, whose club was paced by Logan Walder's 14 points and senior Ryan Drayer's 13.

"I'm really disappointed in them," Colston said. "I like these kids and they're really nice kids, but we've got to be tougher. Our kids are shying away from (physicality). Right now, it's no secret to anybody. They've got to step it up and be able to handle physicality."

Johnson said his team is thrilled to play for the title.

"Oh, it's been too long that we haven't been in this thing," Johnson said, "so it's really good to get back."

A-P pulls through. Shawn Reardon scored 19 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, as Armstrong-Potomac made 17 of 22 free throws en route to a 53-35 win against Georgetowwn-Ridge Farm.

Reardon made 8 of 10 attempts from the charity stripe for A-P (4-17), which acquired 16 points from Dalton Loschen and will square off with Westville in Saturday's fifth-place game.

Keegan Wills led G-RF (2-19) with 10 points.