OXFORD - The highest hurdle a young team needs to clear in order to take its play to the next level is learning how to put opponents away.
That being said, Oxford College delivered a gutsy performance before a jazzed up home crowd Thursday night only to walk away with a tough 62-52 loss at the hands of the Fort McPherson Knights.
The Eagles (1-8) were led once again by their outstanding sophomore guard Chad Hixon, who led all scorers with 29 points and helped Oxford to a 29-23 halftime advantage.
"As a whole, we played fairly well," said Oxford head coach Roderick Stubbs. "I thought when we had the opportunity to build on the lead early but we didn't take advantage of it."
Fort McPherson, led by Laurence Williams' 14 points, started the game slow as it did not record a point until nearly five minutes in, with Oxford jumping out to a 7-1 lead. Both teams were full of energy, and the pace of the game was frantic with solid defense at both ends.
"We knew coming in here that (Hixon) was their go-to man," said Williams. "He's a great ballplayer, and we just wanted him to have to work real hard."
Hixon did a nice job in the first half of getting his teammates involved early as sophomore sharpshooter Ty Trumbo (9 points) made some key baskets and freshman guard Jordan Washington played well in transition.
"(Trumbo) is a good outside shooter and puts a lot of pressure on the other team's defender," praised Stubbs.
The Eagles would enjoy their largest lead with 5:42 left in the first half when Trumbo hit a free throw to put his team up 22-12.
Other players coming up big during that opening half for Oxford were a pair of forwards, Arnold Kim and Matthew O'Connor. Both players displayed great hustle and ran the floor well.
The Eagles came out aggressive in the second half and led 44-38 with just under 10 minutes remaining. However, Fort McPherson simply would not go away, and began to tighten things up considerably on the defensive end.
Phil James tied the game 46-46 for the Knights with a layup and later hit a decisive 3-pointer to give his team a 54-52 lead with 2:19 remaining.
Oxford's final lead of the night came on a fast break assist by Hixon who found Trumbo in transition for a 3-pointer, making it 52-50. But Fort McPherson kept hanging around and really began to frustrate the Eagles with a full-court press, which resulted in some turnover fastbreaks.
The momentum change was evident in the ball movement by the Knights in the second half as they finally got some shots to fall, whereas Oxford's offense - which flowed well early - began to stall as the visiting team did a nice job of applying the double team on Hixon.
Hixon, a 6-foot-3 Snellville native, was also huge on the boards, and clearly is Oxford's main threat at both ends of the court. Still, the Eagles struggled to get over the hump down the stretch.
"Later on in the second half they made plays to get themselves back into it and made some even bigger plays to pull away at the end," said Stubbs.
Oxford will next visit Abraham Baldwin A.C. at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. On Nov. 14, the Stallions defeated the Eagles 88-40.