MACON — Buford’s defense played its best during the most important eight minutes of the season.
The Lady Wolves held Carrollton without a field goal in the fourth quarter, and the Lady Trojans missed two free throws with 0.6 seconds remaining to allow Buford to escape with a 35-34 victory and the Class AAAA state championship on Thursday at the Macon Coliseum.
Buford trailed most of the game, before senior Camille Anderson drained a crucial 3-pointer with 2:36 left in the fourth quarter to help the Lady Wolves earn their fourth state title in program history.
Lady Wolves coach Gene Durden celebrated his fourth state title in 10 seasons with his jubilant team after Carrollton’s Erial Daniel missed two free throws that would have given the Lady Trojans the win or forced overtime.
“This was the way this season should end,” said Durden. “It was ugly, grinding, but we found a way to win. I told them that it won’t say ‘2015 Ugly State Champions’ on the trophy, it’ll say ‘2015 State Champions.’”
Anderson, playing with a sore knee and “at 60 percent,” scored her only two field goals in the second half, but they were crucial in Buford’s rally over the Lady Trojans (25-8).
Buford (30-3) trailed by as much as eight at the end of the first quarter and by three going into the fourth quarter.
Anderson’s right-handed trey, combined with Zikaya Wright’s layup on the next possession, gave the Lady Wolves just enough for the win.
Corey Staples led the Lady Wolves with eight points, while Emily Waters led the Lady Trojans with 10.
“I’m in some pain, but no pain, no gain,” Anderson said. “I’ve got to play in this game if I want to be a state champion.”
The Lady Wolves danced in their locker room following a win that seemed far from certain when Waters scored her team’s first four buckets and Carrollton shot out to a 15-7 lead.
Anderson (six points) had to spend the majority of the second quarter on the bench after picking up two quick fouls, but jumpers by Staples and Wright (7 points) helped Buford cut the lead to 21-20 going into the intermission.
Held to 2-of-11 shooting, Anderson finally got her first basket of the night on a gliding layup with 4:14 left in the third.
But easy layups by Daniel (4 points) and Alecia North (7 points) gave Carrollton a 31-28 lead heading into the final quarter.
That’s when Anderson, buoyed by her team’s lockdown defense, hit the most important 3-pointer of her high school career.
Two Pamela Johnson free throws cut the Carrollton lead to one before Anderson collected a pass from Staples, found room on the right wing, and nailed the shot that would give Buford its final lead of the night.
“I felt it as soon as it came off my hands,” she said. “We needed a pick-me-up and that gave it to us.”
Her shot was a part of a 7-0 run Buford created to open the fourth.
When she was on the floor, Anderson created havoc on defense. She recorded the Lady Wolves’ two blocks and lone steal, all coming in the final eight minutes.
She also found Wright with plenty of space for an open layup on the next possession.
North and Malariah Ranson combined for three free throws in the final minute, but Daniel was unable to convert when it mattered most for Carrollton.
The Lady Trojans converted just 9 of their 19 free throws.
“It was the bounce of the ball at key times,” said Carrollton coach Shon Thomaston. “It didn’t come down to execution.
I’m expecting a lot from (Daniel) in her career, so if we do it all again, I don’t mind it being her on the line.”
Thursday’s title win has extra significance for Buford, who earned a state title game berth in three of the last four years.
The Lady Wolves fell at the final hurdle twice in the last three years, including a heartbreaking loss last year to St. Pius X.
Anderson said her team knew fate was finally on their side when they exacted revenge on St. Pius in this year’s state quarterfinal matchup.
“The streak is done,” she said. “It’s so exciting for our team. We believed in ourselves after we beat St. Pius. I feel like when I can get shots, my team flows with me. I told them, ‘We need to pull away and keep this lead,’ and we did.”
Anderson hurt her right knee in last week’s semifinal, and was wearing a thick bandage during the game to keep it in playing condition.
Her timely shots, along with some clutch team defense, will have the Lady Wolves celebrating for a long time.
“She was hurting, but that’s the heart of a champion,” Durden said. “I’d rather have her at 60 percent than zero percent.”