Buford girls state champions for a fifth time
ATHENS — Just like the first three games between the Buford and Cedar Shoals boys basketball teams this season, Wednesday’s showdown came down to the fourth quarter.
And just like those first three matchups, the Wolves did enough to escape with a victory.
The only difference — this one was for a state championship.
No. 1 Buford outlasted the No. 4 Jaguars to win its first-ever title 75-61 here at the University of Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum. The Wolves (29-2) topped their Region 8-AAAAA rivals for the fourth time this season, but this win was sweeter than all the others.
“Making history is awesome,” junior guard Alex Jones said. “I’m just glad we can leave a legacy at Buford and always be known for something as big as this.”
Buford coach Eddie Martin added to his legacy as well, winning his eighth state championship. After collecting seven titles between previous stints at Greater Atlanta Christian and Norcross, Martin got one for the Wolves in just his second year with the team.
But the coach didn’t want to talk about his personal accomplishments following the game.
“Two days from now, I’ll reflect on it,” Martin said. “Tonight I want to celebrate Buford getting their first. That’s what I’m most proud of right now. … To get that first one is special.”
Cedar Shoals senior forward Phlandrous Fleming tried his best to spoil the occasion, putting up game-highs with 30 points and 14 rebounds.
But sophomore forward Marcus Watson led Buford with 27 points, 17 of which came in the second half. He put up a pair of three-point plays in the fourth quarter, during which the Wolves turned a frantic, tightly contested game into a somewhat comfortable victory.
“I just came to play basketball,” Watson said. “I know it was the state championship, and a lot was on the line. We played well as a team, and it was amazing to see out there on the court.”
The first half was a nip-and-tuck affair, during which neither team led by more than four points. Buford countered Cedar Shoals’ early success down low with some nifty 3-point shooting, sinking 5 of 13 shots from beyond the arc throughout the first two quarters.
The Wolves’ used a late burst to take a 29-27 lead into the break, starting with Watson’ 3-pointer to knot the game at 25 after more than two minutes of scoreless basketball. Junior forward David Viti collected a long-range Watson miss and managed to toss in a layup right before the buzzer sounded to give his team a slight edge at halftime.
Buford claimed a six-point lead during the third quarter, but the Jaguars (27-5) stormed back to make it 36-34 heading into the final period.
That’s when Buford finally created some breathing room.
The Wolves ripped off a 15-5 run to start the fourth quarter, though Fleming scored five straight points in response to reduce his team’s deficit to seven. Cedar Shoals threatened to get closer than that a few times down the stretch, but Buford always had an answer for the budding rallies.
Watson provided the dagger with a three-point play that put Buford ahead by 13 points with about a minute to play.
“I played for teammates and let the game come to me,” Watson said. “I didn’t force it.”
Jones scored 16 points for the Wolves, while sophomore guard Donnell Nixon pitched in 13. Viti had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
It all added up to a fourth win against Cedar Shoals in as many tries, this one not much different than the others. Buford won the regular-season matchups 72-66 and 75-70 in overtime before pulling away late to clinch the region tournament championship with a 76-61 victory Feb. 11.
The Wolves followed that same script Wednesday, but it wasn’t easy.
“It’s insanely hard to beat the same team that many times,” Jones said. “Coming into the game, we just forgot about the three other games. Coach challenged us to take it one game at a time as we have this whole state playoffs.”
As a result, Buford took home its first state championship.