January 25, 2012 - What was a defensive game for the varsity boys basketball team turned into a wild west shoot-out January 17 against Royal Oak as the Wildcats nearly blew a 17-point halftime lead and held on to win 73-68.
The Wildcats built up a 34-17 lead at halftime, thanks to some outstanding defense in the second quarter.
According to varsity coach Paul Marfia, Royal Oak did not score a single point in the second quarter until there was one minute left.
"That is very difficult to do at the varsity level," Marfia said. "I thought we put on a half-court defensive clinic the start of the second quarter till about a minute left in it...it was great to see by the kids and those are things we really have to focus on and build on."
However, sloppy offense in the third quarter led to easy transition buckets and free-throw attempts for Royal Oak, who managed to outscore the Wildcats 28-12 in the quarter.
"We just lacked the execution," Marfia said. "We were taking bad shots, leading to uneven breaks the other way...and it normally ended up with us fouling them and them shooting free-throws."
"A lot of people understand that your shot selection can hurt or help your defense, and I thought in that third quarter, that was a big change we had there," Marfia said. "We had some poor shot selection - quick shots, off-balance shots - that led to a tough situation for us to defend."
The Ravens would have taken the lead entering the fourth, but junior Mike Censullo found senior Nate Brubaker, who finished the game with 12 points and five rebounds, open for an easy bucket as the buzzer sounded to end the third.
Brubaker's bucket gave the Wildcats a 46-45 lead through three quarters.
Marfia called Brubaker "a spark off the bench."
Both teams would trade the lead numerous times in the final quarter, but Oxford eventually seized control of the game, hitting seven of 10 free throws in the final two minutes of the game.
Oxford ended the game shooting 23-38 (59%) from the line, while Royal Oak shot 23-28 (82%).
Senior Jacques Toussaint had another impressive stat night, finishing with 22 points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Senior Mark Hazelwood finished with 18 points, two assists, and three steals.
Senior Mike Kitchner added eight points, four rebounds, three assists and a team-leading five steals; senior Zack Raisch had seven points and five rebounds, and fellow senior Javante Evans had six points and two rebounds.
Marfia said he wasn't too happy with the Wildcats rebounding effort (39-25 edge for the Ravens), but said he would rather "win a little on the ugly side than lose on the pretty side."
"What I am going to hang my hat on is that we responded, and we did a nice job," Marfia said. "That is a maturation on our part and maturity of our seniors."
The Wildcats followed up their victory with 64-50 loss at the hands of Birmingham Groves on Friday, Jan. 20.
The loss snapped Oxford's four game winning streak.
According to Marfia, it was Oxford's impatience at the offensive end of the court that was their undoing.
"When you get impatient on offense, that sometimes puts your defense at a disadvantage," Marfia said. "You play 30 seconds of defense, and then you go down and only make them play only two to three seconds of defense, and I think that caught up with us a little bit."
Groves jumped on the Wildcats early, outscoring them 13-8 after one quarter and held a 29-16 lead entering halftime. Groves stretched the lead to 44-30 after three quarters.
Kitchner was the only Wildcat to reach double-digits in scoring. He finished with 19 points.
"I think it was a great learning opportunity and I'm glad it happened now this early in the season. It really showed some of our weaknesses and hopefully the kids will work on that," Marfia said.
The loss didn't linger for very long as Oxford won a 66-56 road game against Waterford Kettering Monday night.
Oxford was led by Kitchner, who scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Hazelwood added 18 points and five assists for Oxford.
The Wildcats led 38-25 at halftime.
"We had a lot of kids because of various issues and injuries inserted into the starting lineup, and I thought we did okay at times, but at other times I thought our defense was poor and we got outrebounded," Marfia said.
"But we stayed resilient and put the team away at the end," he added.
Up next for Oxford is a home game against Bloomfield Hills Lahser on Thursday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m.
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.