Longtime coach Gene Durden makes sure his Buford High girls basketball team understands its fate never falls on just one player.
It’s a mentality he wants his players maintain during the season, and especially throughout the state tournament.
Even during the brief absence of senior Tory Ozment with an apparent foot injury in Wednesday night’s second-round playoff game, the Lady Wolves never flinched with their point guard on the sideline. Instead, Durden called the next person up, and from there it was business as usual.
Tate Walters bought enough time before her teammate’s return, and Ozment re-emerged to score a game-high 26 points as the top-seeded Lady Wolves rolled to a 75-40 win over Maynard Jackson to advance to the state quarterfinals for the 12th consecutive season. Walters was the only other scorer to reach double figures with 11 points for Buford (25-3), which saw 13 of its players contribute to the offensive flurry inside Buford City Arena.
“You can’t put your whole life on one player, so we’re always talking about that,” Durden said.
“We’re happy to see Tate Walters step in, and she plays well at point guard. I was just happy to see that, and that’s just more experience for the kids.”
With the win, the reigning Class 5A champions next face fellow No. 1 seed Eagles Landing next Tuesday at time to be determined, with a GHSA-mandated coin toss deciding the location.
Ozment (a Michigan State pledge) drilled a 3-pointer for the game’s first field goal just seconds removed from the opening tip, though she gave her team a scare soon after. She had her left foot tangled with a Maynard Jackson (18-7) player and spun to the floor, limping off the court at the 6:49 mark of the first quarter.
The Lady Jaguars quickly took advantage as a layup by Jamilah Mitchell (10 points) and a Tamara White 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions put them ahead 5-3.
Maynard Jackson didn’t get much else after that. Preston Reid scored a layup off a steal and drive, and Buford began to impose its will. Tate Walters assisted a Mary Walters basket off another Lady Jaguars’ turnover as the Lady Wolves reclaimed a lead they would not relinquish.
Ozment re-entered the game after the three-minute mark and scored seven straight points to give Buford a 18-12 lead at the end of the opening period.
It was all Buford from there.
The Lady Wolves’ ruthless full-court press and up-tempo play proved too daunting for the Lady Jaguars, who turned it over 16 times in the first half and rarely had a clean look at the basket.
Buford changed gears to close out the half on a 19-2 scoring rampage supplemented by five takeaways on defense. Ozment capped the surge with a trey — her third of the night — to make it 44-16 right before the buzzer.
“People don’t always understand that the press isn’t always designed to steal the ball, it’s designed to wear people down,” Durden said. “You know, when we’re coming at you in waves of five, a lot of times people who are not in real good shape — physical or mental — it wears you down. Pretty soon you can get some benefits off of it.”
Buford’s lead gradually ballooned to 40 points as a long 3-pointer by senior Audrey Weiner (seven points) put the Lady Wolves up 63-23 right before the end of the third period. Maynard Jackson finished with 24 turnovers despite getting double-digit outings from Sherion Cooper (10) and Mitchell, followed by White with nine.
The Lady Wolves also played an unselfish style of basketball as eight different players assisted baskets, with Weiner dishing three assists in the win. Ebony Grant recorded seven rebounds for Buford.
Their attention now shifts to a fellow No. 1 seed in the Class 5A tournament. The Region 4-5A champion Golden Eagles (23-6) are winners of 13 straight games, including a 73-40, second-round rout of Wayne County on Wednesday.
Buford, of course, is no slouch either as Durden’s senior-stacked roster has now won 11 straight and outscored its playoff opposition 150-64 in two contests.
“There’s no easy roads to a state championship,” said Durden, who is in his 13th season at Buford. “We gotta play 32 minutes, and hopefully we will be ready to do that. ... (Our players) are doing a pretty good job of focusing.”