The final buzzer, like unexpected whistles throughout the night, was cruel to the Tigers. They battled and scratched and clawed all night to keep pace with the Wolves, erasing deficit after deficit, but the clock striking zero ended a bid for the first state championship in team history, as Fayette County lost to Buford 76-69 Friday night in Macon.
“There’s nothing much I can say to them. They played as hard as they could play,” said Fayette County coach Andre Flynn of his squad. “I’m very proud of them. I’m very proud of their effort.”
From beginning to end, the game was marked by big swings. Buford would jump out in front, and Fayette would battle back. The Wolves opened up with a 6-0 run, and the Tigers pulled back as Will Richard stole the ball and dished to Josh Dupree for two, then Richard scored on a putback floater.
Trailing 14-8 at the end of the first quarter, the Tigers surged in front on a long Dupree jumper and a Ricky Knight 3-pointer.
Buford’s ability to dominate on the glass enabled them to keep Fayette at arm’s length, and they pulled back in front. A technical foul against the Tigers helped them build up a double-digit lead, and they held steady in front 39-31 at the half.
JeKobe Coleman caught fire in the third quarter, hitting a trio of 3-pointers to narrow the gap. A corner Knight trey and two late Terrell Bradley free throws tied the game at 53-53 heading into the final frame.
Bradley added another pair of free throws to take the lead at 55-53 to start the fourth, but it was the last lead the Tigers would hold. After a Buford three, Knight sank another 3-pointer to tie the game back up at 58-58.
A blocking call that went against Fayette, one of several key fouls on the night, helped swing the momentum back to the Wolves, and they would not trail again.
“I thought we got some questionable calls, but I really don’t like to talk about that,” said Flynn. “They stayed the course and kept on fighting.”
Coleman and Knight 3-pointers kept them close late, but the Tigers could not erase the gap as Buford iced the title at the line.
Knight again carried the load for the Tigers, scoring 26 points, highlighted by 6-of-8 shooting on 3-pointers. Coleman added 15 points, Dupree scored 12, and Bradley chipped in 10.
Buford was led by Oklahoma State commit Marcus Watson, who posted 33 points and 10 rebounds. Eric Coleman added 25 points and 9 rebounds.
The loss marks the end of the high school careers of a stellar senior class of Knight, Dupree, Bradley, Greg Smith, and James Carr.
“Those guys have been working their butt off since they were in the 9th grade, especially Ricky, Josh, and Terrell,” beamed Flynn. “The time they put in and the hard work they put in, I’m so proud of them.”
The loss will sting for a while, but the wounds will heal and the team will hold cherished memories of a remarkable run.
“Of course we would’ve liked to win it, but what they were able to accomplish, a 26-6 season, and they played their butt off and got to the state championship, there’s nothing else I can say,” said Flynn. “I know they’re upset right now, but I’m really proud, and they’ll be proud when they can go back and think about it.”
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