“What do you think?” asked Jacob King after Monday night’s 78-68 win over University High at OHS Gymnasium. “Is Oneida basketball back?”
King, who returned to the helm of his alma mater’s basketball program three years ago with a promise of returning the Indians to the glory days of the ‘90s, when he was one in a long line of standout players at Oneida, delivered on that pledge Monday, when his team stamped its ticket to Murfreesboro with the win over the Buccaneers.
“These kids have dealt with a lot of stuff this season,” King said. “They’ve dealt with inside team stuff, outside stuff, stuff from me. But they have found a way.”
Oneida, which came up just four points short of the state tournament last season, losing to Cosby in the sectional round, would not be denied this time, overcoming a nine-point first half deficit to build a double-digit lead that lasted most of the second half.
Nathan Bowling scored 31 points, while fellow junior Kolby Morgan had 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists. In doing so, Morgan became the third Oneida player this season to reach the 1,000 career point benchmark.
Earlier in the season, Bowling reached the 1,000-point mark. Senior Dalton Yancey, who had a double-double in Monday’s game, with 11 points and 10 rebounds, also reached the 1,000-point mark this season.
University High junior Kaleb Meredith, who is headed to the University of Tennessee on a baseball scholarship after high school and has already reached the 2,000-point mark, had 29 in Monday’s game. But it wasn’t quite enough on a night when Bowling and Morgan were determined to lead their team to Murfreesboro for the first time in 22 years.
“I told the kids, ‘Let’s do what we do,’” King said. “‘Let’s be patient on offense, let’s get stops on defense, and I don’t think they can guard us.’ I didn’t. I’ve been thinking about that since yesterday. I called Coach (Torrey) Slaven last night and I told him that.”
Indeed, Bowling and Morgan looked unguardable in the third quarter of Monday’s game. Bowling had three 3-pointers and scored 11 points, while Morgan had two 3-pointers and scored 10. That powered Oneida to a 26-13 run as the Indians turned a two-point halftime lead into a 15-point advantage as the fourth quarter began.
The two had started to put their stamp on the game in the second quarter. After University High built a nine-point lead, the Indians slowly chipped away at it. In the second quarter, Morgan had eight points and Bowling had six, as Oneida came back to take the narrow lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, Oneida’s success on the perimeter started with going inside. Dalton Yancey had five points, but his impact was bigger than that as he forced the Buccaneers’ defense to tighten up.
“I thought in the third quarter we got inside to Mr. 32 and he did what he needed to do with it,” King said. “He only had 11 points but he took so much of their attention from other people.”
With Yancey playing his game on the low block, Bowling and Morgan were free to roam the perimeter.
“We started playing unselfish basketball in the second half,” King said. “There was one point where Bowling would’ve usually drove baseline, but he found Kolby and, guess what? Kolby knocked it down. And then Kolby found Nate and Nate knocked it down. It was just unselfish basketball.
“What can you say about Nathan Bowling tonight?” King added. “He had 31 points and played well. Kolby Morgan played well. Jeric Huling, in the first half, maybe the moment was too big for him, but in the fourth quarter he settled down and played well, and had seven points. I thought Jordan Perry played well. I thought Elijah West played well.”
Oneida had a 41-31 advantage on the boards, and limited University High to 34 percent shooting. The Buccaneers were just 9 of 30 from 3-point range.
The free throw line was a big story. Oneida finished 21 of 32 from the line, 66 percent. University High was just 11 of 19 from the line, 58 percent. The 10-point advantage turned out to be the same as the Indians’ final advantage on the scoreboard.
Oneida was to have learned its opponent in the state quarterfinals on Tuesday evening, after a random draw at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Murfreesboro. The other teams advancing to the state tournament in Class A included Hampton, Monterey, Clay County, East Robertson, Loretto, Memphis Academy of Health Sciences (MAHS) and Booker T. Washington.
ONEIDA (78): Bowling 31, Morgan 24, Yancey 11, Huling 7, West 3.
UNIVERSITY HIGH (68): Meredith 29, Broome 17, Carter 15, Fleenor 3, Rice 2, Blowers 2.