DACULA — Buford’s girls basketball team was seconds away from being shut out in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night's Dacula Tipoff Classic finals.
Instead, the Wolves found a way to win.
Buford held Wesleyan scoreless for the game’s final three-plus minutes, and got its only five points of the fourth quarter from Tate Walters in the final 32 seconds for a 50-49 victory. Walters’ game-winning layup with nine seconds left provided a one-point lead, then Wesleyan’s Avyonce Carter missed a jumper on the other end as time expired.
Buford repeated as champion of the tournament, while Walters earned MVP honors for the second straight year.
“Any time you play a quality team like Wesleyan in an environment like this, you do nothing but make yourself better,” Buford girls coach Gene Durden said. “We’ve got a lot of lessons we can learn and take away from that game, but I was really proud of our kids and how they scratched and clawed. We built a lead, lost a lead and then came back and found a way to win.”
Buford (7-0) took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, but Wesleyan (3-1) came back with a slow, 13-0 run to go ahead 49-46 with 3:09 left on a 3-pointer by Carter — but those points turned out to be Wesleyan’s last of the game.
Still scoreless in the fourth, Buford struggled to cut into the three-point deficit until Walters was fouled and made two free throws with 32 seconds left. Wesleyan broke the ensuing pressure and got a good look at a layup that rimmed out, then Buford took a timeout with 16.8 seconds left to set up a play.
The plan revolved around Walters, who broke free on a backdoor cut and made the go-ahead layup with nine seconds left. Wesleyan brought the ball across halfcourt and called timeout with 4.5 seconds left. Carter’s shot as time expired was off the mark, sending Buford to a win in the first of two games between the two powerhouses this season.
“We knew they were going to be on Tate really hard, so we opened up the floor and cut her for the back door,” Durden said. “It just happened to work. We were happy about it. I’m glad she made the layup.”
Walters led Buford with 13 points.
“It’s a design, so you have to read and hand off to back door,” Walters said. “The main thought process was if she overplays, (go) back door, and if not, hand off. I went from there, checked for help and finished the basket.”
Wesleyan also blitzed Buford in the first quarter, opening up a 15-7 lead just three minutes in.
“They came out with a lot of energy and we didn’t match it,” Durden said.
His team rebounded with a 10-0 run to close the first quarter, taking a 17-15 lead on a 3-pointer from Walters as time expired. Wesleyan trailed only 31-28 at halftime despite playing most of the first half without Carter, a Georgia Tech signee, because of foul trouble.
Blair Wallis had 12 points on four 3-pointer in the first half, then teammate Sara Viti took over in the third quarter. Viti, who also had 12 points on four 3-pointers, nearly buried Wesleyan with three straight 3-pointers in the final three minutes of the third quarter. The trio of triples turned a one-point lead into a 46-36 lead, setting up the exciting fourth quarter.
The excitement from the Buford players afterward showed just how much the victory meant.
“It’s my favorite rivalry,” said Walters, who has played travel basketball in the past with Wesleyan’s Carter, Lanni Brown, Paige Lyons and Alyssa Phillip. “I always love playing Wesleyan. It’s been a rivalry since Coach Durden’s been at Buford. It’s always so much fun. … In the locker room, we talked about how we have three championships we can win, this one, our region championship and state. We always want to win them all.”
Buford and Wesleyan play again Jan. 25 in their usual regular-season game. Their tournament meeting at Dacula was just a bonus matchup.
“We played a bunch of kids in this tournament and that’s going to help us down the line,” Durden said. “The quality of competition here of playing three great teams in Grayson, Valdosta and Wesleyan, that’s going to do nothing but help us the rest of the season.”