Oak Mountain takes down Briarwood in tournament final

Published 10:24 am Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Will Stephenson, shown here earlier in the season against Helena, led Oak Mountain in the finals of the Bryant Bank Thanksgiving Classic over Briarwood with 18 points. (File)

Will Stephenson, shown here earlier in the season against Helena, led Oak Mountain in the finals of the Bryant Bank Thanksgiving Classic over Briarwood with 18 points. (File)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

TRUSSVILLE – After surviving the first two rounds of the Bryant Bank Thanksgiving Classic at Hewitt-Trussville High School, Oak Mountain met Briarwood for the first time this season in the championship round of the early season tournament. Both the Eagles and Lions have started the season strong, and brought 4-2 and 4-1 records into the game, respectively. Oak Mountain got the better of Briarwood in the championship game thanks to a strong second half, and beat Briarwood 61-50.

The Lions made the finals on the back of big man Thomas Collier, who scored 25 total points in the first two rounds in wins over Pinson Valley and Hewitt-Trussville. Their ascent to the championship game included an ugly, 35-34 win over the host team in the semifinal round. Oak Mountain also had to stave off elimination earlier in the tournament, as they gave up a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter of their first round game against Minor, and had to win the game in overtime.

In the championship game Oak Mountain was without the services of starting big man Payton Youngblood. Youngblood turned his ankle at the end of the semifinal game against Clay-Chalkville, and when he showed up for warm-ups the morning of the championship game, it was swollen to the point that he couldn’t dress. That forced Oak Mountain head coach Chris Love to adjust on the fly and go with a smaller lineup, which posed a potential problem for the Eagles, given Youngblood was the best foil to match up with Collier’s 6-foot-9-inch frame.

After a tight first half, Briarwood led 35-30 midway through the third quarter before Oak Mountain heated up. The Eagles closed the game on a 31-15 run, aided significantly by six three-pointers down the stretch, three from Will Stephenson and three from Ryan Hollingsworth, who was starting in Youngblood’s stead, to get the win.

“I think each game in the tournament we got a little better and a little more confident,” Love said of his team’s performance. “Basketball game is a tournament sport, and any time you can put yourself in a championship and have a chance to win one can only help come February.”

Oak Mountain did not have much trouble scoring the basketball from deep, as the Eagles hit 13 triples in all in the championship game. While Love was pleased with the offensive effort, what his team did on the defensive side of the floor impressed him more.

“Even though we played well offensively, defensively we were able to get after it a little bit, which was encouraging,” Love said.

Stephenson led the way for the Eagles with 18 points and four assists, and went 7-7 from the charity stripe. Hollingsworth finished with 15 points, all from deep, while Wyatt Armstrong chipped in 11 points and seven rebounds as well. Briarwood was led by Collier, who had 14 in the game and finished the tournament with 39 points in three games. Jeffrey Travis also had 10 for Briarwood.

Oak Mountain moved to 5-2 after winning the Bryant Bank Classic, while Briarwood suffered just its second loss of the young season, falling to 4-2.