OAKLEAF – Oakleaf High junior guard Jonathan Bryant took hold of the Knights basketball attack with 31 points to push the Knights to a 75-72 first-ever district 4-7A championship win over top seed …
OAKLEAF – Oakleaf High junior guard Jonathan Bryant took hold of the Knights basketball attack with 31 points to push the Knights to a 75-72 first-ever district 4-7A championship win over top seed Creekside High Friday night at Oakleaf High School. Oakleaf has two district 2-6A runnerup finishes in the past two years.
"We knew Jonathan was going to explode on a big night for us," said Oakleaf High coach Jason Price. "He sure did tonight. He has been a solid player for us everytime he steps on the floor, but tonight was special. I dared them to be great and win the first title here."
Oakleaf High School now has matching district titles in basketball with the Lady Knights basketball team also winning the district 4-7A title a week ago over Bartram Trail High School. Both teams advance to regional play with Oakleaf already pounding out a 53-23 region quarterfinal win over First Coast, the 3-7A runnerup to Robert E. Lee (see Clay Today sportswriter Doug Deters story, page ??). Oakleaf's girls will travel to Lee High for their region 1-7A semifinal on February 9. Oakleaf's boys will host 3-7A runnerup Atlantic Coast (20-12), who were upset 69-67 by First Coast (11-12) in their district championship, on February 11.
"Atlantic Coast is probably the more dangerous team of the two with their explosive athletes," said Price. "You never know what a team will do in the playoffs and that's what probably happened with First Coast winning that title."
Against Creekside, who last beat Oakleaf in regular season play 64-57 on January 8 with a decisive fourth quarter rally, the Knights looked to open with sleeping sand in their eyes for the first two minutes with Creekside rifling to a quick 5-0 lead to quell the frenetic "Blacked-out" Oakleaf High fan base.
"We have had awful first and third quarters all season and we changed up our warmup routine a bit to try and take the court with a little more energy," said Price.
With a technical foul called against Creekside, Bryant nailed two free throws then hit his first of three first quarter three point bombs to ignite an Oakleaf frenzy on the floor.
"I wanted the ball more this game then others," said Bryant. "I just knew it was going to be either myself or Nassir (Little, Oakleaf's other scoring source) to take control."
Bryant remained on fire to finish the first quarter with Oakleaf up 18-9, but Little was having his troubles with two offensive fouls and a third defensive foul putting Price on edge about the remaining three periods.
"Creekside's coach was smart in taking out one of the two scorers on our team; either Jonathan or Nassir, and then trying to work the game from there," said Price. "For us, though, other players needed to pick up their game and fill in."
With Bryant still the driving force of the offense, with a layup off a spin move and his fourth three pointer coming before halftime, it was bulked-up center Dominique Mitchell and wiry forward Brandon Aponte who both stepped up in the next three quarters to keep the Oakleaf attack at full tilt.
"We finished with nine wins and one loss with our big lineup with Dominique in there to try and slow down the inside attack," said Price. "Brandon has always been a tough, aggressive defender with the ability to make turnovers happen with his long arms."
Mitchell started to spell disaster for the Creekside defense with his strong drives to the basket resulting in either layups or foul shots. A feed from Little got two free throws to 25-15 with Mitchell nailing a strong left-handed layup to push the score to 27-16 with six minutes to the half.
"I wanted to make an impact for every minute I was on the floor because Coach Price was giving me the opportunity," said Mitchell, who was energized by a family emergency that was, at first, tragic, but later proved positive just days before the game. "I had a strength from beyond tonight."
With Mitchell getting a second foul just before the half that resulted in a Creekside three-point play and a slim 27-20 lead for Oakleaf, Price went to his bench with Aponte who quickly came in and snatched two strong defensive rebounds to keep the Creekside offense at bay.
"My job is to play defense and make plays on the defensive end," said Aponte.
With Bryant cooled for a six minute period with missed three pointers and Creekside manning two defenders on him outside the paint, Aponte landed a Jordan-esque underhanded lefty layup to push Oakleaf to a 31-24 lead before forcing a backcourt call against Creekside with a half court trap in play.
"That's what he does," said Price. "He is so high-energy it makes the other team's ballhandlers nervous and out of their game."
Aponte struck again after an offensive rebound off a Bryant misfire turned into a soft jumper to put Oakleaf up 33-26 with 30 seconds to the break.
Aponte quickly added a defensive rebound, a steal and a free throw to close the half with a 34-26 Oakleaf lead.
The first five minutes of the third quarter were scoreless on both ends of the court with both coaches seemingly not willing to risk either a Creekside comeback or an Oakleaf blowout before Aponte was found on a breakaway release pass by Mitchell broke the ice.
A Little steal and layup pushed the score to 38-27 before Creekside would answer with points.
Creekside unwrapped an 8-1 scoring run to close the score to 39-35 with four minutes left in the third quarter with Oakleaf seemingly not getting any bounces for the span.
"Good teams respond when that happens and I just told them at the time out to settle down and play our ball," said Price. "We extended their offense out of the paint and made them shoot from further out. They hit some, but we were controlling the middle."
Enter senior Christian Larson who offered a smoother set shot for the Oakleaf offense. Bryant followed up two of Larson's shots to the basket to get close tip ins and spark an Oakleaf response to the Creekside scoring run with the score bolting to 52-43 with guard Andrew Harper nailing a three-pointer and jumper. Larson and Bryant exchanged assists to scores with each other on drives to push the score to 56-45 with six minutes left in the game.
Creekside would rally again to get the score as close as 66-60 and 68-62 as the clock seemed to move slowly for the Oakleaf defense. "We knew they could keep coming and our conditioning was going to come into play," said Price.
Little re-entered the game despite his foul troubles and quickly pushed the pace back up for Oakleaf as the Knights got two Bryant free throws and a Little-to-Bryant assist play to up the game to 73-66 with 34 seconds to go.
Creekside's final flurry came with just 19 seconds on the clock as the game ended 75-72.