Fayette County fans felt a shift a momentum in the second quarter, an unlikely swing considering the Tigers trailed by 14 in the first quarter. A Josh Dupree 3-pointer pulled the Tigers within two of Buford late in the second quarter, bringing fans to their feet.
Unfortunately for Fayette County (23-8), that was as close as it got, as the Tigers were outpaced 83-60 by the Buford Wolves (28-2) in a 5A semifinal game at Columbus State University Saturday night. The game was closer than the final score would indicate, but Fayette County was never able to grab hold of the lead, despite a few close calls.
Saturday marked the first time Fayette County had played in a state semifinal game since 2011. For a team with six seniors, the loss ended not only the season but the high school playing careers for nearly all the players who saw game action against Buford. In the postgame locker room, Fayette County head coach Andre Flynn told those seniors to keep their heads up because they lost to a quality team in Buford.
“They’re number one for a reason,” Flynn said.
While Fayette County battled nerves early on, Buford played like a team that has been in this position before, racing out to a 7-0 lead. Fayette County senior guard Austin Nesmith, who finished with a team-leading 19 points and 9 assists, got involved early, hitting a 3-pointer and a driving layup to make the deficit manageable at 12-7.
Even once the Tigers shook off the nerves, the Wolves couldn’t miss in the first quarter, as the lead ballooned to 21-7. Fayette County didn’t let the game get out of hand, however, as senior guard Jaylen Holloway converted two layups, helping the Tigers cut it to 25-17 at the end of the first quarter.
After a layup in the second quarter from Buford junior David Viti, Fayette County led a fervent comeback, embarking on a 12-2 run to drop the Wolves’ lead to 33-31. After Buford took a 34-31 advantage, senior Noah Gurley and Dupree each had a chance to tie the game with 3-pointers, but both missed. Those misses proved to be costly, as Buford junior Alex Jones and sophomore Marcus Watson responded with two consecutive threes.
“They don’t make too many mistakes, so it was tough,” Flynn said.
Dupree sank his second 3-pointer of the half with under a minute remaining, and Fayette County trailed 42-35 at halftime.
Gurley scored five quick points to begin the second half, but Buford’s offensive rhythm never slowed. Not even back-to-back 3-pointers from Nesmith late in the third quarter could bring Fayette County close enough to make a run for the lead, as the Tigers trailed 62-51 at the end of the third period.
Buford made sure a comeback was never possible from the onset of the fourth quarter. A Wolves’ 12-0 run midway through the quarter sealed the fate of the Tigers.
“To get the Final Four in 5A basketball and battle the number one team in the state, I’ll take it,” Flynn said.
While the loss was a couple games shy of Fayette County’s goal, Flynn said his team still defied expectations reaching the 5A semifinals.
“No one except for us thought they’d be in this place right here, so I’m very proud of them,” Flynn said.
Buford will travel to Athens to take on Cedar Shoals, who beat Miller Grove in the first semifinal game, on Wednesday in the 5A state finals.