A track meet turned into a chess match in last night's City League basketball championship game at Savage Hall.
Although the third-ranked Libbey Cowboys would have preferred the former, they did just fine with the latter in taking a 61-49 victory over St. John's Jesuit before a crowd estimated at 4,000.
In keeping with the pattern of their 19-1 season, the Cowboys were again paced by 6-5 junior standout William Buford, who scored 26 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
"I feel good," Buford said of the CL title. "This is my first one and the first one for coach Bates for a long time.
"I thought they were going to keep attacking us, but they probably got a little tired. We stay focused and we won the game."
Libbey's triumph came via the combined effort of its leader and teammates who executed their roles.
Fellow juniors Anthony Brown (10 points), Brad Burton (8), Brad Sandridge (7) and Lance Jones (6) all made significant contributions as Libbey took its first CL title since a top-ranked, unbeaten Cowboy team won the 2000 crown.
The respective team leaders dueled it out in the first half, with Buford including three 3-pointers among his 18 points, and St. John's senior guard Joe Jakubowski mixing three triples into his 17 points before the break.
At that point, Libbey held a 40-32 lead and seemed on the brink of pulling away had it not been for Jakubowski's hot shooting.
"Joe played great, and he's been playing great," Titans coach Ed Heintschel said of Jakubowski, who finished with 19 points. "He kept us close. He kept us in the game. He played with a lot of heart like he always does."
The game's up-tempo pace was scrapped early in the second half when Heintschel turned his team's man-to-man defense into a more passive scheme by pulling it closer to the basket.
"It was such a hectic first half and we were just clawing to keep it close," Heintschel said. "So, we were very comfortable with that [slower pace]. It got down to four a couple times, and we were right there."
Faced with settling for perimeter jumpers or attacking tighter passing lanes, Libbey coach Leroy Bates opted to do neither.
The Cowboys held the ball out top - with a lead that ranged between eight and four points through the third quarter and into the fourth - and seemed content to wait things out.
"You can lose your momentum when you have that kind of strategy, but we felt that they didn't want to come out and play us out there," Bates said. "If they did, they were looking to double William. So, we felt, at that time, the best thing for us to do was make 'em come out or just waste the time because we had the lead."
Bates admitted, if St. John's had gotten any closer, the Cowboys would have been forced to attack.
"When you play like that it can take a lot out of your momentum," Bates said. "We didn't want to do that, but then again we didn't want them to force us into that tempo. So, we tried to slow it down just enough so that we could get things done."
St. John's (13-7) was still within striking distance down 50-44 after a driving layup from Sean Patterson (nine points) with 3:28 remaining.
But that's when the momentum swung in Libbey's favor for good, thanks to a technical foul call on the Titans for tapping the ball out of bounds after Patterson's bucket cleared the net.
"It was a call and they had to make it, I guess," Heintschel said of the technical foul. "They made it and [Libbey] made their free throws. It was a momentum swing, that's for sure."
Both teams had been warned against that delay tactic by the officiating crew earlier in the game.
"That helped," Bates said. "I've got to give the referees credit because they told us, 'Make sure your players don't tap the ball out.'
"When we got those two points and got possession, that kind of changed the momentum."
Buford, who hit all seven of his free-throw attempts in the game, meshed both technical foul shots, and the Cowboys maintained possession.
When Buford scored on a 12-footer from the left baseline 37 seconds later, Libbey held a commanding 54-44 lead.
St. John's got no closer than eight from there, and Libbey capped its City title on a steal-and-layup from Sandridge and Burton's slam dunk in the closing 30 seconds.
Libbey shot 50 percent (22 of 44) from the field and 78 percent (14 of 18) from the line.
St. John's was 22-of-48 (46 percent) from the field, just 1-of-6 from the line, and outrebounded the Cowboys 31-21.
"They were holding the ball and we decided to play that game," Jakubowski said. "That was to our advantage, I think, but they just pulled it out at the end and we kind of ran out of gas.
"I've got to hand it to them. They played a great game and they deserved to win."
Sophomores Michael Taylor and Tim Kynard added eight points apiece for the Titans and junior Andrew Schaetzke grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
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