Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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There's more to Cowboys than Buford

Here's how it shaped up, on paper, for last night's City League boys championship game:

Libbey High has nine seniors, and five of them start. St. John's Jesuit has three seniors, and none of them start.

So, this wasn't a fair fight, on paper or off.

The Cowboys repeated as league champions with a 61-39 victory at Savage Hall. And they did it despite mere mortal numbers from William Buford.

The Titans' day will come, especially considering coach Ed Heintschel starts a freshman-sophomore backcourt.

But this is the Cowboys' time, and one has to wonder how far they can travel down the tournament trail, especially as a Division II team.

Their first sectional test will be against the winner of Rossford and Bryan. No disrespect to those two teams, but Libbey isn't exactly the reward a team wants for winning.

The problem for opponents is that Buford is unstoppable, a man among Cowboys, so to speak, and that Libbey can be just as difficult to contain when its star is keeping coach Leroy Bates company on the bench, as he did for much of the second half after getting in foul trouble.

As you might have picked up from that nine-senior stuff mentioned earlier, this is a team deep with quality talent.

"They played really well without William," Heintschel said, "and I just told Leroy that might be the biggest thing that came out of this with the tournament ahead."

Bates said the Cowboys played some summer league games without Buford, but that was a lot of snowflakes ago. Plus, they don't hand out big, golden trophies during the summer.

"I think our players knew what they could do [without Buford]," Bates said. "But it's nice to see it actually happen in this kind of environment. I think that was huge for us."

Buford sat out for 10 1/2 minutes in the second half and played just 19:20 of the game's 32 minutes. He still led Libbey with 15 points, but Brad Sandridge stepped up to score 13, Tony Brown and Lance Jones each added eight, and 6-foot-6 Julius Wells scored six points, grabbed six rebounds, and was a defensive enforcer in the paint.

"Sometimes, maybe, other guys get overlooked because William is going to Ohio State and gets a lot of press," Wells said. "But we go eight or nine deep. A lot of guys can play. I think we'd all be stars on other teams. Here, we're a team. We're working for championships."

And, while last night's game was for a title, it's not necessarily the one the Cowboys have been eyeing since Day One.

"This is a milestone," said Wells, who will play college ball at Marist. "The state championship is the goal."

It might be closer at hand considering what the Cowboys learned about themselves last night.

"We proved we can function, with William or without him," said Brown, who combined with Jones to simply take over the game during a key stretch of the third quarter. "He's a big, big part of the team. But the key word is team."

It is what Bates has long been preaching and teaching.

"I keep telling them 'we' can win, not that one individual can win," Libbey's veteran coach said as his players cut down the nets at Savage Hall. "William, to his credit, understands that as much as anybody. He knows he can't do it alone."

What everyone learned last night is that he might not have to. And that knowledge may prove to be more valuable than the trophy the Cowboys took home.

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