The Oxford boys basketball team enters today's Division III state semifinal against Hoosac Valley with first-hand experience of the Hurricanes. No, the Pirates have not faced the 'Canes on the basketball court, but they were in the MassMutual Center stands during Hoosac's dramatic double overtime victory over rival Uxbridge in last year's state semifinal game.
Oxford coach Anthony McDonald said Hoosac is a tough, senior-laden team, and those thoughts were reaffirmed watching Hoosac's Western Massachusetts final victory over an athletic Easthampton team.
The Pirates advanced to the state semifinals with a 44-41 over Bartlett in the Central Mass. final. It's Oxford's first state semifinal appearance since 1980. McDonald said the low scoring was result of two teams that were very familiar with one another. He added his team can adapt to any style of basketball.
"We're in the middle," he said when asked of his team's preferred pace. "We've scored in the 70s multiple times. We're not deliberate, we can play both styles."
Hoosac did a great job of controlling the pace against Easthampton, keeping the game at a half-court tempo. When Oxford is looking for a basket out of the half court, senior Jared Buckley is usually the player to look to. Buckley carried the Pirates in the Central Mass. final, scoring all 13 of his team's points in the fourth quarter.
Shaun McCarthy provides another scoring option and Jared Schutrick is a strong outside shooter.
"We have guys that can score in the post and multiple guys with 40 3's [for the season]," McDonald said. "If you double down on our bigs, we can pass to our shooters. It's pick your poison. I don't know what I would do if I was going to play us."
Outside shooting has been a constant part of the Hurricanes postseason run. They made seven treys in the Western Mass quarterfinals against Hampshire, only three against Sabis and five against Easthampton — including four in the first half. Senior guard Avery Hall said his team does a good job of taking whatever the defense gives it.
"It's just about the flow of the game," Hall said after beating Easthampton. "We were hitting our shots, so we kept taking 3's. Eventually we got cold, so we stopped. It's about the flow of the game."
At this point in the season there is not enough time to install any new offensive or defensive system that will completely confuse your opponent. Hoosac coach Bill Robinson said the focus is on self-correcting mistakes and tightening up the existing systems. If the game is close late, however, both teams are aware of Hoosac's ability to perform in the clutch.
Oxford is hoping it's close proximity to the DCU Center (about a 10 minute drive from the high school) will bring a raucous crowd to the game. McDonald said while Hoosac has the experience of playing in the state postseason, he expects his players to handle the pressure of the game.
"We've responded in a more positive manner in every game," he said. "It's tough to get up for every game during the year, but if you don't get up for a state semifinal..."
Even if Oxford has the crowd on its side, Robinson said having performed on the state semifinal stage will help.
"A majority of these kids have been there," he said. "They know what it's going to be like. They know the nuances of the arena. It's different playing in a place like that than it is playing in a high school gym or The Cage. The rims are bouncy-er, but our kids will adapt to that quicker."
Robinson added that one thing his players will need to adjust to is the long bus ride to Worcester. He said they may have heavy legs early, but they will arrive well before their 4 p.m. start in order to watch the Hoosac girls basketball team take on Littleton at 2:15 p.m.
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252