OAKLAND – After losing the third consecutive one-possession game to Oakland Tech in the section championship just over a week ago, Oakland High coach Orlando Watkins believed his team had been “intimidated” by a team technically more and more difficult.
On Tuesday night, Oakland looked the hungriest and most physical unit as the schools faced off in the NorCal Division III championship game.
Jimon Campbell and Te’Shawn Gamble flew down the court and grabbed all the loose balls, and Anthony Lacy leapt over Tech’s rebounds to the boards. If there was an extra possession or advantage to be won, Oakland was the team to grab it. What would have been a technical layup in previous games turned into a draw or a jump ball.
A 77-61 loss at Laney College and Oakland’s first trip to the state championship game in Sacramento.
“I told everyone it was going to be a physical game and we matched their physicality,” Watkins said. “That’s why we won the game.”
The action on the ground was similar to a brawl, but the atmosphere in the crowd was one of celebration. The Laney Gym was packed far beyond its official capacity of 2,500, and many more were denied entry outside. Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao excited the crowd with a pre-game speech, and the crowd’s energy never dissipated at any point, even when half the overhead lights went out in the second half.
It was tough in the first 16 minutes as Tech’s slippery and relentless guard Ahmaree Muhammad scored 17 of his 23 points, nine of them from the free throw line. Tech’s Asher Kramer opened the second half with a three-pointer to cut Oakland’s lead to 36-33, and it looked like the fourth meeting between the schools would become another classic.
Instead, Oakland finished the third quarter 52-41 in a dimly lit gym and turned out the lights on the technical offense putting Muhammad in trouble. Money Williams scored six points on three acrobatic layups on the board to finish the game with 25 points. Defenders tried to force the lefty to the right, and Williams used his cunning to get to the left anyway.
“The way he sees the game, the way he thinks about the game, he’s on a whole different level,” Lacy said of Williams. “He sees things we don’t see, and when he brings it to our attention, he takes the team to a whole different level.”
Oakland (26-8) led by double figures for the rest of the game. In addition to Williams’ 25, Lacy scored 17 and Gamble scored 13 points. ArDarius Gates scored 14 points and Devin Haynes scored 10 for Tech (22-12).
After Oakland guard Couraji West made the final layup and time expired, a sea of Oakland High fans and alumni invaded the court to celebrate. Among them was Edgar Jackson, a graduate of the class of 2001 who sported a huge smile when talking about his team.
“It was lit in here and it was emotional to watch,” Jackson said. “We’ve had great teams over the years and it’s great to see the team get to this part.”
Coach Karega Hart was much more somber as he returned to the locker room, but he still focused more on the positives of the season than the bitter end result.
“I’m proud of my team and we’ve persevered all year,” Hart said. “It just wasn’t our night, and hats off to Oakland.”
Oakland Tech won the first three games 81-79, 61-59, 53-50. While the No. No. 3 seeded Tech has played each of its previous two playoff games at its Broadway Street gym, The No.
Up next is a Friday game against Buena-Ventura, a team that went 31-5 and beat Culver City 82-79 in the SoCal final. Oakland is the first team in the section since McClymonds in 2009 to advance to the state championship.
After surviving NorCal’s challenge and finally defeating Tech, one of Oakland’s stars believes the team knows what it takes to finally bring the state’s hardware back to the city.
“Don’t get caught up in our head and don’t get caught up in the crowd,” Lacy said. “Stay with our team and stay connected…don’t let them outwork us.”
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