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Having Their Backs in Oxford

Oxford’s T.J. Allen celebrates senior-high activities before Oxford’s game against Fort Payne on Tuesday at Oxford. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Oxford’s T.J. Allen celebrates senior-high activities before Oxford’s game against Fort Payne on Tuesday at Oxford. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Oxford, AL – Having missed most of his senior season with a back injury, Allen reflects after Oxford’s boys suffer another close-game setback on senior night. Whitfield puts on a senior-night show as Oxford girls thwart Fort Payne comeback.

Tuesday scoreboard

BOYS
Fort Payne 51, Oxford 45
Anniston 38, Westminster Christian 35
White Plains 67, Cherokee County 63, OT
Saks 54, Piedmont 51
B.B. Comer 70, Isabella 24
Weaver 87, Wellborn 50
Jacksonville 64, Asheville 58
Jacksonville Christian 55, Cedar Bluff 45
Cleburne County 40, Central-Clay 32
Pleasant Valley 56, Ragland 47
Oneonta 78, Glencoe 76
GIRLS
Oxford 71, Fort Payne 52
Piedmont 64, Saks 32
Jacksonville 66, Asheville 19
Cherokee County 63, White Plains 33
Southside 70, Etowah 9
Alexandria 54, Lincoln 33

By Joe Medley

Oxford’s T.J. Allen celebrates senior-high activities before Oxford’s game against Fort Payne on Tuesday at Oxford. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Oxford’s T.J. Allen celebrates senior-high activities before Oxford’s game against Fort Payne on Tuesday at Oxford. (Photo by Joe Medley)

For most of this season, T.J. Allen has watched.

The Oxford senior has watched close games. Lots of them, and so many ending in disappointment.

He watched as Oxford’s string of five Calhoun County championships ended.

He watched knowing that watching was best for his long-term health. There’s no playing through a fractured disc.

Knowing the medical wisdom of losing most of Allen’s senior season doesn’t make it easier, and it wasn’t easy watching Oxford’s 51-45 loss to Fort Payne in Class 6A, Area 13 play on senior night.

“It’s been very tough,” Allen said, “but I know that it’s all through God’s plan, and I trust his plan and, for the rest of the season since I found out I was hurt, I’ve been sharing with my team and giving all the love that they need.”

Allen was one of seven Oxford players honored on senior night as Oxford split a varsity doubleheader with Fort Payne. Oxford’s girls won 71-52.

Besides Allen, the class included Xai Whitfield and JaMea Gaston, an impactful pair as Oxford’s girls won their first three county titles since 2006 and a Northeast Regional title en route to a state-runner up finish in 2022.

Allen’s senior teammates include Caleb Sanders, Jordan Kelley, Earl Tyson and Chase Truitt.

All have had their impact.

“Our seniors tonight, Jordan Kelley played his tail off,” Oxford boys coach Joel Van Meter said. “I was so happy with the way that he played. Caleb gives you everything that he’s got. I wish we could get him to shoot it a little bit more, but it is what it is.

“I’m really proud of them. We need to figure out how to go on the road Friday (area game at Gadsden City) and end this thing the right way.”

T.J. Allen’s painted senior parking space in the upper parking lot, across the street from Oxford Sports Arena. (Photo by Joe Medley)
T.J. Allen’s painted senior parking space in the upper parking lot, across the street from Oxford Sports Arena. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Allen’s registered his impact as Oxford’s starting shooting guard in past seasons, and his absence had an impact this season.

As with so many other games, Jaylen Alexander poured in 27 points. With Oxford down 42-31 in the fourth quarter Tuesday, he shot the Yellow Jackets back into the game with consecutive 3-pointers, followed by Kelley’s three to close Oxford within 44-40.

Wherever Alexander tried to drive, there was defensive help. Imagine the difference it could’ve made, if Fort Payne’s players also had to defend Allen.

“Obviously, you can’t help off of 22,” Fort Payne coach Robi Coker said, referring to Marcus Perry, Jr. “We learned that at our place, six threes later.

“Certainly, if you take the starting two guard off of any team in the state of Alabama, they’re going to miss him. He is a very good basketball player who stretches the defense and puts teas in binds, when he’s in that corner.”

Allen missed most of this season with a stress fracture in his L-4 vertebrae. It’s the culmination of years of lower-back pain, he said, and it got worse during his senior year.

“I got X-rays, and tried to play on it,” he said. “It was just hurting more, and I went back to the doctor, and he said it wasn’t healing at all. If it didn’t it didn’t, there’s surgery and all of that.”

Allen participated in senior night ceremonies in uniform Tuesday then watched the Fort Payne game from the bench. He’d like to say thoughts of what could’ve been have never crossed his mind.

Then again, that would be like saying he never thought about shooting an open three.

“I don’t want to be that guy, but I just feel that I have such an important piece of this team,” he said. “Everybody agrees that this team really would be better, at least, with me.

“If I could go out there, I really would try and give it my all.”

Senior Xai Whitfield goes up for two of her 33 points in Oxford’s 71-52 victory over Fort Payne on Tuesday at Oxford. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Senior Xai Whitfield goes up for two of her 33 points in Oxford’s 71-52 victory over Fort Payne on Tuesday at Oxford. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Girls

OXFORD 71, FORT PAYNE 52: What Whitfield and Gaston have meant to the girls’ team showed against Fort Payne.

Whitfield’s 3-pointer steadied Oxford after Fort Payne turned a 41-21 third-quarter deficit into a 48-45 threat in the fourth quarter. The Tennessee State signee did like she’s done all season, scoring 33 points added to Ava Thomas’ 25-point night, which included five 3-pointers.

Whitfield scored 11 fourth-quarter points.

Gaston hit one of two free throws for her point, an atypical night for one of the team’s 3-point threats, but she always impacts a game.

Senior JaMea Gaston and her family participate in senior-night activities Tuesday at Oxford. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Senior JaMea Gaston and her family participate in senior-night activities Tuesday at Oxford. (Photo by Joe Medley)

“JaMea is small in stature, but she is mighty in spirit,” Oxford coach Melissa Bennett said. “She slipped in against their biggest kid and took a charge, and that’s really a testament to her willpower and her desire. She’s always willing to do whatever the team needs.

“Obviously, Xai is a stat machine. I thought she did a great job tonight. We were kind of struggling offensively, and then she took over.”

Oxford’s girls have progressed as much as any team this season, with a lot of younger players finding their way around Whitfield and Gaston. The Yellow Jackets started to click before the county tournament then won it, upsetting top seed Anniston in Friday’s final.

Coming off of that, they won a key area game Tuesday and will play a winner-take-all game for the right to host the area tournament Friday at Gadsden City.

“We just was really dedicated to playing,” Gaston said. “We knew we had to win this game, but we really didn’t want to lose on senior night.”

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