Oak Mountain advances to third Elite Eight in a row

Published 3:55 pm Thursday, February 17, 2022

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

HANCEVILLE – For the third year in a row, Oak Mountain advanced to the Elite Eight behind a dominant effort against the Austin Black Bears on Thursday, Feb. 17.

The defending Class 7A state champions looked the part in the Sweet-16 battle against Austin at Wallace State using a 15-6 opening quarter to create separation and never look back en route to a 56-37 victory.

“I’m really pleased with how we played,” head coach Chris Love said after the win. “Austin is very athletic and very tough to guard. I thought we did a really good job of keeping them in front of us and rebounding the basketball.”

Love said the three keys were keeping the Black Bears in front of them, keeping them off the offensive glass and transition defense.

“They just attack the rim so well and are so athletic and do a great job finishing, so those, without question, were the three main points,” Love said.

And that’s exactly what they did early in the game.

With the defense doing that, it allowed the offense to jump out to an 8-2 lead quickly, eventually extending that to 10-4 with every point through the first three minutes coming in the paint.

The Eagles went on to score every basket at the rim in the opening quarter to take a 15-6 advantage.

“You get in these games, and we’ve talked a lot before, and these guys have been in these games for a couple years now, I think that you have a tendency to get excited, the environment is awesome and you tend to settle,” Love said. “We talk a lot about not doing that and to attack the rim to get some easy ones inside. That was an important part of our game plan for sure.”

It helped set the tone for the Eagles, who went on to put together a 12-2 run to start the second quarter, including the first 3-pointer of the game from Brady Dunn.

That helped Oak Mountain take a 30-13 lead into the halftime break.

“They’re a very confident group, but what’s great about these guys is that they’re not cocky,” Love said of the confidence coming into games. “They understand we are a good basketball team that can beat anybody, but they know there are certain things you have to do in order to win them. They cherish those things and know what’s important.”

The Eagles continued to play loose to start the third quarter with a 3-pointer from Dunn and a Giegel layup putting Oak Mountain in front by 22 points.

With the season on the line, Austin then gained its first momentum of the game, using a 10-0 run to get within 12 points at 35-23.

Dunn, however, added two layups late in the quarter, which helped the Eagles go back up by 15 going to the fourth.

Oak Mountain capitalized on gaining the momentum back, eventually extending the lead back to 19 early in the final quarter, which Austin never could recover from.

The Eagles got 18 points from Dunn in the win thanks to 6-7 shooting overall and 2-3 shooting from beyond the arc. He also finished 4-5 at the free throw line.

Wilder Evers also finished in double figures with 13 points. He added three assists and two rebounds in the win.

Both players said it felt good to pick up the win, but that it was just a step in the process toward getting where they want to go.

“Winning it last year, we know what we have to do,” Evers said. “We won, so it’s a good feeling, but we know we aren’t done, so it’s on to the next one.”

Matthew Heiberger led Oak Mountain on the glass with eight rebounds and totaled two points, while Giegel finished with seven points and five boards. Senior guard Evan Smith added six points and four rebounds for the Eagles, who shot 55.3 percent from the field.

Oak Mountain will now take on James Clemens in the Elite Eight on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at 10:45 a.m. The Eagles beat the Jets 64-53 in the Sweet 16 last year.