Oak Mountain will host area tourney after thrilling win over Thompson

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

NORTH SHELBY – After putting his team up 62-59 with 46 seconds to play thanks to two made free throws, it was what Evan Smith did next that helped his team the most in the biggest game of the season.

With the Thompson Warriors looking to answer in a game that had gone back and forth throughout with several lead changes, the sophomore guard for Oak Mountain did something he had done several times throughout the game.

With the Warriors setting a screen for the ball handler, Smith used quick instincts to get around screen and jump in front of the ball handler to take a charge and give the ball back to his team with 23 seconds to play.

Following that game-changing play in a one-possession game, the Eagles inbounded the ball to Zane Nelson out of a timeout, who hit two more free throws to put his team on top 64-59. Thompson hit two more free throws on the other end with two seconds left, but Oak Mountain inbounded the ball and the final seconds ticked off.

When the clock hit zero, Oak Mountain’s players sprinted to the student section and erupted in celebration as that game-changing charge from Smith didn’t just lead the Eagles to a 64-61 victory, but to the regular season area championship.

Now, the Eagles will get to host the area tournament as the No. 1 seed, meaning they’ll avoid playing Thompson again or Hoover until the area championship game.

But the win didn’t come without some tense play and a pressure-packed comeback.

Trailing 50-49 entering the final quarter, Oak Mountain eventually fell behind by six points early in the final quarter at 57-51. But Will Shaver was able to hit a huge 3-pointer for the Eagles to keep them in close contact.

Thompson jumped back up by four late in the game after a layup from Chaney Johnson put the Warriors on top 59-55.

That’s when another game-changing play happened, as Nelson was fouled shooting a 3-pointer. He went on to knock down all three free throws to make it a one-point game, and the momentum shift began.

Shortly after, Noah Young got a powerful offensive rebound and putback to give the Eagles the lead before Smith and Nelson hit four consecutive free throws to close out the win.

Oak Mountain made seven free throws in a row to close the final quarter and hit 8-of-11 total in the period. In all, the Eagles hit 24 of their 30 free throws to pick up the win.

Nelson was the team’s leading scorer with 22 points, while Shaver added 19 points in the win.

In the opening quarter of the game, it was Thompson who struck first out of the gate with a quick 9-5 run thanks in large part to a strong full-court press that game the Eagles fits.

Oak Mountain got trapped in the corner a couple of times, which led to turnovers and easy baskets for the Warriors. But Shaver helped his team fight back with six consecutive points at one point, including a 4-4 mark from the free throw line in the quarter.

That helped the Eagles pull in front 11-9 at one point, but Thompson fought back to take a three-point lead 13-11. But following two Trey Sullivan free throws for Oak Mountain to cut the deficit to 14-13, teammate Wilder Evers helped the Eagles take a 16-14 lead at the end of the quarter behind a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

Early in the second quarter, Oak Mountain extended the lead to four points at 18-14, but Thompson answered back with a 10-3 run to jump back in front, 24-21, following a deep 3-pointer from Tre Roberson.

Shortly after, however, Nelson hit a deep step back 3-pointer for the answer, which brough the Warriors back to within a point. Oak Mountain eventually took the lead back at 30-29 off an Evers floater, but the Warriors ended the quarter on a 4-1 run to take a 33-31 lead at the half.

Shaver continued his strong night with the first basket of the third quarter, but shortly after, Grant Hopkins converted an and-1 to put his team back up by two points.

Oak Mountain, however, put together a strong run after that, which featured a powerful dunk and an and-1 from Shaver to put the Eagles in front 43-37 for their largest lead of the game.

Thompson answered back thanks to several combined makes from Roberson and Johnson, which cut it to a one-point game at 49-48 following a Johnson 3-pointer.

After Oak Mountain turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, Thompson inbounded the ball on the baseline with two seconds left in the quarter and fired a ball to the other end of the court where Roberson laid the ball in at the buzzer to give the Warriors a 50-49 lead heading to the final quarter.

Thompson continued the strong effort early in the final quarter, but great play from Oak Mountain in the final two minutes turned the game in the Eagles’ favor, as the picked up the three-point win.

Thompson was led by 16 points from Johnson, who had to sit a large portion of the first half with foul trouble. In addition to him, Roberson added 11 points, while Hopkins had 10.