MACON — Every one of Eddie Martin’s state championships is special for its own reasons. Breaking down each one takes awhile, though, since he has nine now.
The latest came Friday night at the Macon Centreplex, where Martin’s top-ranked Buford boys basketball team fought off No. 3 Fayette County for a 76-69 victory and the Class AAAAA state title. What made this victory unique was the makeup of his roster.
“This group right here, we have 11 seniors,” said Martin, who won three titles at Norcross and four at Greater Atlanta Christian before the most recent two at Buford. “I’ve never had 11 seniors on my team before. I was scared to death when we started this year that there would be conflict because they’re not all going to get to play. But they bought in. They kept their friendship like it needed to be and they bought into it. That’s what made this championship so special.”
Two of those seniors, the most physically dominant two on the floor Friday night, carried the offensive load.
Marcus Watson and Eric Coleman combined for 58 points and 19 rebounds, making 16 of 27 field goals (59.3 percent) and 19 of 25 free throws. Watson, an Oklahoma State recruit, had 33 points and 10 rebounds, and Coleman, a High Point (N.C.) signee, had 25 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots with his future college head coach Tubby Smith in attendance.
They took advantage of the defensive attention Fayette (26-6) paid to the other member of Buford’s top three scorers, Donell Nixon. Nixon had eight points and six rebounds, but was limited to six shot attempts.
“They did a great job of taking Donell out of the ball game, just denying him the ball,” Martin said. “What he didn’t do was start panicking. He took a couple of questionable shots. But the way he shoots the ball, I’m not sure any shot’s questionable. But Marcus and Eric stepped up big on the offensive end with them taking Donell away.”
Another sweet memory for this year’s Wolves (29-2) comes from erasing the memory of a disappointing early exit from last year’s state playoffs. They were dominant defensively throughout the playoffs, and the senior group added another state title to the one they earned as sophomores in 2017.
“This year we came in focused, we locked in on the small things,” Watson said. “We became the best players we could be, the best team and we took it home.”
Buford, which won its 14th straight game, started the game on a 6-0 run, capped by a Watson dunk. It led 14-8 after a quarter, then led by as many as 12 points late in the second quarter before Fayette closed to 39-31 at halftime.
The big lead came courtesy of an 8-0 run in a span of 21 seconds. After Coleman was fouled and made two free throws, the Fayette bench was called for two technical fouls. Then Watson made a deep 3-pointer for a 39-27 edge with 53 seconds left in the second quarter.
But Fayette shot itself back into the game in the third quarter.
“That group can flat out shoot the basketball,” Martin said of the Tigers.
The teams entered the fourth quarter tied, and traded free throws and 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the fourth. Watson delivered from there, making two free throws for a 60-58 lead with 4:38 left. He followed with a step-back 3-pointer with 4:02 remaining for a 63-58 edge.
Fayette missed a 3-pointer on the ensuing trip that set up a transition layup from Coleman, who was fouled and made the free throw with 3:40 remaining for a 66-58 lead. The Tigers never recovered.
“We just took over,” Watson said.
Ashton Young contributed six points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals for the Wolves, and Bobby Miller added eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. With Watson and Coleman leading the way, Buford had a 42-23 advantage in rebounding.
Ricky Knight (22 points, 6 of 8 from 3-point range), JeKobe Coleman (15 points), Josh Dupree (12 points) and Terrell Bradley (10 points) scored in double figures for Fayette.
The Tigers had the most offensive success by far of any team facing Buford in the postseason, but it didn’t have enough to stop the Wolves and their seniors from another state championship.
“It’s huge (for the seniors),” Martin said. “They’re all such good kids. They love each other. They love being together. They love doing things together, not just basketball. But to know that 11 guys on your team are going out as state champions is special. That’s very special.”