COLUMBUS - William Buford did against Chillicothe in the Divison II boys basketball state championship game yesterday at Value City Arena what he's done for most of his high school career at Libbey.
Ohio's Mr. Basketball stuffed the stat sheet - a game-high 29 points, including two 3-pointers, five assists and six rebounds.
Despite Buford's all-around performance, the Cowboys still came up heartbroken after Chillicothe pulled out a last-second 70-69 overtime victory before an emotionally charged 14,498 fans.
Buford's wish to complete his high school career by going out on top on the court on which he will play in college didn't come true.
"I felt like I could have done way better, more than what I did to win the game," Buford said shortly after Chillicothe's Ray Chambers had decided the game with a buzzer-beating layup. "I would've played more aggressive defense and grabbed way more rebounds. But it is what it is and we lost the game."
Libbey's 6-foot-5 senior, who was selected to play in the McDonald's All-American game and Michael Jordan's All-Star game next month, did his share to put the Cowboys in position to win the school's first state title. He worked the inside for points and showed his range by knocking down 2 of 5 3-pointers. He also helped bring the ball up the court against Chillicothe's pressure, which seemed to get more troublesome for Libbey as the game went on.
Buford's versatility concerned the Cavaliers enough that Chillicothe coach Gary Kellough thought it was in their best interest to run nearly a half-dozen different defenders his way over the course of the game.
Buford, who made 13 of 25 shots, had Chillicothe's full attention the entire time. One of his biggest shots came when the Cowboys trailed by four points in the fourth quarter and he calmly nailed a clutch 3-pointer from behind the top of the key with 26.4 seconds remaining to trim Chillicothe's lead to 62-61. It led to the game going into overtime after Lance Jones made a 12-footer to tie the score at 63 with three seconds left in regulation.
"I'd like to have him on my team," Kellough said. "William Buford created so many problems for us because he plays all five positions."
Libbey coach Leroy Bates has leaned on Buford to lead the Cowboys (24-3) for the past three years. He showed improvement each season, culminating with him guiding this team to the state championship game.
Bates believes the future for the best player he's ever coached at Libbey is extremely bright, starting next season at Ohio State.
"He has unlimited potential because he's a slasher. He's inside, he's outside," Bates said. "He has long-range shooting ability. He has mid-range shooting ability."
The defeat, which rekindles memories of Libbey's loss to Chaminade in the 1966 Class A title game, is something that will require some time for the close-knit group to get over.
Buford, one of nine seniors on the roster, tried to help some of his teary-eyed teammates cope with the pain of the loss afterwards in the Cowboys locker room.
"I was down, too, but a couple of them were down more than me, so I just tried to keep their heads right because we made history for Libbey," Buford said. "I just wanted to keep that in their heads."
The three-time Blade player of the year expects to use the memories of the defeat as motivation for him down the road in college.
"In the future, I'm going to stay in the gym and keep working hard for next year," he said. "I don't want to feel this feeling again.
"I want to win a national championship for Ohio State."
Contact Donald Emmons at:
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