Buffalo has answer for doubters
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. - Questions have dogged Buffalo's basketball team all season.
No traditional low-post offense. No signature wins. And nothing to lean on but streaky 3-point shooting and some quirky full-court pressure defense.
Well, all those questions were answered in a resounding way Thursday night.
The Bison got double-figure scoring from five different players and forced 21 turnovers to earn a 65-61 victory over No. 5 Parkersburg Catholic in a Class A Region 4 co-final, sending the Putnam County school back to the state tournament for the first time since 2008.
"We had faith. That's what we had,'' said senior guard Levi Jordan, the team's leading scorer. "We had each other's back. That's what won it for us.''
The Bison (21-4), which came into the game ranked No. 8 in Class A, used a 12-1 run to close the first half to gain a 33-25 halftime lead.
Buffalo stayed in front the rest of the way, stretching the lead as high as 10 points and seeing it cut back as close as one by the Crusaders (21-4).
The Bison survived some shaky free-throw shooting, as it missed its first four attempts after going into the 1-and-1 bonus with exactly a minute left. That turned a 10-point advantage with three minutes left into unsure footing.
PC narrowed it to 63-59 on a pair of Joe Padden foul shots with 15 seconds remaining, but Jordan virtually iced it two seconds later by swishing a pair of his own at the line.
Buffalo came into the game with four losses, three to defending state champion Charleston Catholic and the other a two-point loss at the buzzer to St. Marys in the championship game of the Hometown Invitational Tournament in Summersville.
"People said all year we don't play anybody,'' said Bison coach Chuck Elkins. "We've won 21 ballgames. We had to have something. We've lost three times to Charleston Catholic and to St. Marys on a lucky shot. So this proves we're legit. We might not be a championship contender, but I think we deserve to be there.''
Buffalo also weathered a 31-point explosion by Parkersburg Catholic's Jake Ullman, who hit 13 of 22 shots and knocked down five 3-pointers.
The Crusaders, who won a state title in 2010, couldn't keep from giving the ball back to the Bison, however. Buffalo had 14 steals, led by Laythen Good with six.
"We had five keys coming into the game,'' said PC coach Rob Strcula, "and one of them was to limit turnovers. That was kind of a backbreaker in the first half [when the Crusaders turned it over 11 times]. It put us in a hole. It continued in the second half, too. We'd get within three and shoot ourselves in the foot.''
The Bison has ridden its full-court and half-court pressure defensive sets all season long, and Thursday night was no reason to change, even in its biggest game of the year.
"It's speed,'' said Good, who scored 12 points. "Speed. We kept switching, staying with our man and not letting them get open shots. We wanted to stay aggressive and make them have turnovers.''
Buffalo, which doesn't start a player taller than 6-foot-1, also fared pretty well on the boards, being outrebounded just 30-29. Jordan grabbed seven misses to go along with 12 points and junior Aaron Lewis was a revelation, coming off the bench to provide 11 points and six rebounds.
"I've never been confident about my shot,'' Lewis said, "but I don't know. I just decided to shoot a lot today.''
Elkins was pleased to see that, because he knew the Crusaders would try to clamp down on Jordan and Good, 3-point bombers and the team's top two offensive threats all year.
"I don't know where Aaron came from tonight,'' Elkins said with a laugh. "He came in from the cold tonight. He's been in and out and in and out. They couldn't guard him. That was the difference in the second half.
"We talked for three days that they were going to hold down Levi and Laythen and somebody else is going to have to step up. We had a bunch of guys step up. Isaiah Robinson played great. Dylan Rich had some big baskets. Our kids just wouldn't quit. They kept playing.''
Robinson and Rich tied for Buffalo's scoring lead with 13 points apiece, with each hitting better than 50 percent (Robinson 6 of 11, Rich 5 of 7) as the Bison shot 52 percent.
Padden added 15 points and a team-high seven rebounds for the Crusaders,
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.