JACKSONVILLE — Saturday’s Calhoun County semifinal between top-seeded Oxford and No. 5 seed Saks didn’t figure to be close, and Oxford’s foul troubles didn’t make close.
With Ulric Jones and Justin Lawler out for long stretches of the first half, Oxford still managed to gain separation and cruise 56-35 in Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Jamal Lee scored a game-high 18 points, Lawler and Deon Wright added 12 apiece, and the Yellow Jackets (18-6) stifled Saks’ offense to gain Monday’s 7:30 p.m. final against 6 seed Weaver.
Weaver upset No. 2 seed White Plains 52-38 in Saturday’s second semifinal.
“Coach (Daryl) Hamby does a great job,” Oxford coach Joel Van Meter said. “He’s got some good talent. Chris English is obviously the leading scorer in the county. Timothy Hawkins is a very good player.
“We’re going to have to step up and play well once we get on the court.”
The 6-foot-6 Jones, a football commit to Mississippi State, showed himself to be a physical mismatch quickly, scoring Oxford’s first six points, first against Chase Johnson and then Monty Young.
But Jones picked up his second foul quickly and missed much of the first and second quarters before checking back in. He quickly picked up his third with 3:30 left in the second quarter and his fourth at 5:00 of the third.
Lawler sat out for much of the first half, as well.
“We’ve got a bench,” Lee said. “Our bench has got a big role in the game. They come out here to play, too.”
It helped that Oxford’s man and 2-3 zone defenses held Saks (14-5) for long stretches without a field goal. Saks shot 34.2 percent from the field (12-for-35) and committed 21 turnovers.
“We work on it constantly, and we talk about a formula to win games like this and win in the postseason,” Van Meter said. “Defending, rebounding and being tough, that’s kind of what we’ve built this thing on when I got here three years ago.
“We’re capable of guarding, and that’s been what we hang our hat on.”
As for any lost offense, Lee picked up the slack.
“Jamal Lee, people don’t realize how good he is,” Van Meter said. “He can do everything for us on the floor and does everything for us.
“I didn’t feel uncomfortable when those guys went out with a little foul trouble, or whatever. I know, if he’s on the floor, our motor is still going.”
Oxford led 18-6 after the first quarter and expanded its lead in the second quarter, with Jones and Lawler out significant minutes.
“That may have leveled the playing field some, but they’ve so many good players,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “Jamal Lee, the Lawler kid, they’ve all been there.
“They’re a very veteran-heavy team, and they’ve got a good ballclub.”
Saks got a team-high 13 points and 12 rebounds from Daniel Heard. He was the Wildcats’ lone double-figure scorer.
“It was just one of those nights when the opponent is much bigger and stronger than you,” Miller said. “At the same time, they’re pretty athletic, so it was a tough matchup for us.”