The Buford girls basketball team has now won four consecutive Class AAAAA championships, and the latest might have been the toughest one to bring home.
Facing a Kell team that came in 32-0 and ranked No. 1, the Wolves answered every threat in a back-and-forth game and went 7-for-9 from the free-throw line in the final two minutes, securing a 66-63 victory when Crystal Henderson missed a long 3-point attempt at the buzzer Friday night at the Macon Centreplex.
The championship was the eighth in 12 seasons for second-ranked Buford, which finished the season 31-1. Kell was seeking its first state title after going 1-3 in three previous playoff appearances.
“I just thought it was a game of spurts, both ways,” Buford coach Gene Durden said. “We really hurt ourselves early with foul trouble, not doing some smart things, putting them on the free-throw line early. So it was just one of those grind games. They made some plays, and we made some bigger plays at the end. That was a great game for the fans to watch, and I’m just glad we came out on top.”
Senior Tate Walters scored 18 points to lead Buford, which also got 13 points from Ashyia Willis and 12 from Blair Willis, who got all of her points on 3-pointers, including three in the second half.
The game was tied 29-29 at halftime, but Buford got a layup from Willis in the opening seconds of the third quarter and never trailed in the second half, although the Wolves weren’t able to increase the lead to more than eight points.
Kell battled back time and again behind the play of Henderson, who was tasked with bringing the ball up the court against Buford’s smothering full-court press. Buford forced 24 turnovers in the game, but Henderson had only two. For the game, Buford scored 34 points off turnovers.
After being held to four points in the first half, Henderson got loose in the second, scoring 22 of her game-high 26 points, including two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that kept the Longhorns within striking distance.
“She’s a tremendous young player,” Durden said. “She plays with so much confidence and made so many big plays. I just told her it was a great game and she did a great job and to keep her head up.”
Buford led 65-60 with 21.7 seconds remaining after two free throws by Willis, but Henderson’s 3-pointer closed the gap to 65-63. Walters then made one of two free throws with 10.5 second left for a 66-63 lead, which held up.
Buford appeared ready to blow the game open early, forcing turnovers on six of Kell’s first seven possessions while building a 10-3 lead. Kell responded with a 7-0 run to tie the game, only to see Buford score the next eight points to lead 18-10.
The Longhorns answered with the biggest run of the night, a 16-0 stretch that gave them a 26-18 lead with 5:12 to play in the half. Buford then outscored Kell 11-3 and sent the game to halftime tied 29-29.
Amaya Moss scored 14 points for Kell, Makyah Favors scored 10, and Jada Green had five points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Expect to see both teams make more deep tournament runs in the near future. Walters and Katelyn Klein, who had nine points, seven steals and five rebounds, are Buford’s only seniors. Kell started three freshmen in the championship game and had just three seniors on its 15-player roster.
Kell - 10-19-19-15 - 63
Buford - 16-13-21-16 - 66
Kell (63): Kya Williams 8, Jada Green 5, Jamiah Gregory, Crystal Henderson 26, Amaya Moss 14, Maliyah Davis, Sylvia Kahoro, Mackenzie Franklin, Kyler Woods, Makyah Favors 10.
Buford (66): Tate Walters 18, Tatum Ozment, Ashyia Willis 13, Katelyn Klein 9, Blair Willis 12, Tamori Plantin 4, Courtney Martin 2, Sara Viti 6, Abbi Perkins 2.
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