MACON — Buford’s Jocelyn Danley started Saturday’s Class AA state title game against Model with stress fractures in each leg, but one thing on her mind: leaving it all on the floor.
The senior power forward scored a game-high 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds to lead her team to a 66-35 win over previously unbeaten Model for the program’s first state title.
"I knew we were going to do something great this season," Danley said. "Whether it was winning region or whatever, we were going to do something great."
"It was so wonderful for Jocelyn (Danley) to play this way in the state title game," Buford coach Gene Durden said. "For her to end her career at Buford like this is special and it couldn’t have happened to a more special player."
Michelle Godwin, like she did with a charge on Laney’s first possession in the semifinal game, once again got the Lady Wolves started with a 3-pointer on their first possession.
Danley followed her lead, scoring on Buford’s next two possessions to spark a game-opening 13-2 run.
"She’s got the biggest heart," said Buford senior and Auburn signee Blanche Alverson who finished with 11 points. "This is a good way to go out."
The three things Durden earmarked as necessities for winning a state title — rebounding, half-court defense and half-court offensive execution — were all facets played to perfection by Buford.
Facing a defense that was allowing only 35 points per game, the Lady Wolves shot 65 percent from the field, putting up more than 20 points in a quarter twice. Buford’s offensive execution was evidenced by its efficiency. The Lady Wolves finished with only nine turnovers for the game.
Buford’s full-court press had Model reeling from the beginning. The Lady Blue Devils had five turnovers in the first two and a half minutes and 28 for the game.
Buford’s half-court defense was just as impressive, holding Model to just six field goal attempts in the first quarter. The defense only got better as the game went on, allowing just four Lady Blue Devils’ field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, the first of which went in with 20 seconds to go in the game.
"That’s our trademark, pressure defense," said Durden of a Buford defense that had 15 steals. "Model’s had a great season and is a great team, but we showed all during the playoffs what we could do, and today was no different."
Buford led 22-4 after the first quarter and 30-15 at the half, and spent the third quarter ensuring there was no doubt as to which team would walk away with the trophy.
The Lady Wolves began and ended a 15-3 third-quarter run on the scoring abilities of Andraya Carter, who finished with 11 points.
The freshman started the run with a layup and finished it with a free throw. In between, she had a steal that was converted into another two points and scored on a runner from the baseline.
"We’ve been focused this whole season on one goal," Durden said. "For our kids to go out and play the second half like they did was awesome."
While the game was virtually in hand from the beginning, it wasn’t obvious until a smile broke on the faces of the players with four minutes to go in the game when Alverson hit Carter with a length-of-the-floor pass for a layup making the score 60-28.
"I’m so happy for our kids," Durden said. "They’ve worked so hard for four years and today is about them."
Model, a team that came in and scoring just over 60 points per game, was led by senior center Shelby Farrer with 13 points. The Lady Blue Devils played without leading scorer Janaye Jasper, who was injured in the semifinals.
Buford’s first state title marks the first for Durden who spent 14 seasons at Dade County, coaching in three state title games, before coming to Buford four years ago.
"There are a lot of good coaches that have never won state championships," Durden said. "This was a special group of players and the title is theirs."
It’s Buford’s state title indeed, even though it might take a while for it to sink in.
"This is so surreal," Buford senior Abby Johnson said. "Today just felt like another game."