The seventh-ranked Libbey Cowboys might have come of age last night on their home court, fighting back from an early 13-point deficit and taking a 14-point lead before holding on for an 81-79 victory against two-time defending state champion Canton McKinley.
William Buford topped Libbey (11-1) with 31 points and 10 rebounds, and fellow junior Brad Sandridge was clutch down the stretch, scoring the Cowboys' last eight points.
Sandridge, who had 19 points and six rebounds, scored what proved to be the game-winner on a putback of an Anthony
Brown miss with three seconds to play.
Libbey then held off third-ranked McKinley's last chance at winning or forcing overtime with a steal in the closing seconds.
"It was a tremendous game," Libbey coach Leroy Bates said. "Both teams played great. For most of the game I thought our guys played real hard. We haven't been doing that for four quarters [during season], but I think we got pretty close to four quarters tonight.
"It was an exciting time, and I think the kids can learn from this and, hopefully, do what we need to do down the road."
The loss ended a nine-game winning streak by the visiting Bulldogs, who seemed to have Libbey on the ropes with its pressure defense in the closing minutes. McKinley forced four of Libbey's 15 total turnovers in the final 1:16.
The Bulldogs - down 54-40 after Buford's three-point play with 3:34 left in the third quarter - trimmed the lead to 61-55 by period's end.
"This was a big game for us because they were ranked higher than us and they beat us last year by a large margin," Buford said. "We tried to come out and retaliate from last year.
"The first half we came out pretty lazy, but in the second quarter we wanted to attack the basket. We did that, and we came out aggressive."
After McKinley cut the gap to 61-60 on a Morgan Williams three-point play 42 seconds into the fourth quarter, Libbey answered with a 9-4 run to give it some temporary breathing room at 70-64 with 3:28 remaining.
But the Bulldogs, who hit 10 of their 13 fourth-quarter shots, most on drives to the basket, refused to go away.
McKinley forged a tie at 76 on a Lonnie Richardson steal and layup with 1:09 left and tied it for the final time on a Williams free throw with 41.1 seconds to go.
"We got comfortable with the lead, and we shouldn't have," Buford said. "They played pretty hard after that and got the ball to basket and got to the free throw line. They were more aggressive."
Libbey managed to hold the ball for a final shot, calling two timeouts before Sandridge's winning bucket.
"I thought we had them on the ropes," McKinley coach Greg Malone said. "We kept changing up our presses, and we rattled them a little with our jump press. It got us some turnovers.
"We kept the pressure on, and one more turnover here or made layup there, and it's a different story. But woulda, coulda, shoulda, I guess."
The Bulldogs, using their transition game and some good interior passing, closed the first quarter with a 15-6 run over the final 3:10 and took a 22-13 lead to the second.
After Libbey saw McKinley push its lead to 29-16 on a Ricardo Wells put-back basket
6:25 before halftime, the Cowboys regrouped and responded with a 16-0 run over the next 3:06, taking a 32-29 lead on a Buford basket 3:19 before the break.
"The main thing that got us back was our defense," Sandridge said.
Brad Burton had 12 points and eight rebounds for Libbey, and Brown added 10 points.
Wells led McKinley with 24 points, Johnie Davis had 17, and Williams and Leo Turpin added 11 and 10, respectively.
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