Coming into the high school basketball season, junior Justus McMillan and his Boyd-Buchanan teammates believed this could turn out to be a special year.
Now the Bucs are one win away from proving that to the rest of the state.
Despite playing without any seniors, Boyd-Buchanan captured the Region 3-A championship with a 58-44 victory over Grace Academy on Tuesday night at Sale Creek. The Bucs will now host Region 4 runner-up Clarkrange on Monday in the Class A sectionals with a spot in the state tournament on the line.
“This feels great,” said tournament MVP McMillan. “As a team, we had high expectations. Our goal was to make it to state, but really we’ve just focused on playing as a team and getting better each game.”
Thursday night, the goal for the Bucs was to get better in the second half. After four early lead changes, Grace used an 8-0 run to build a 23-16 advantage. Meanwhile, Boyd-Buchanan was in the midst of a four-minute scoring drought before getting a 3-pointer from Hall Allen with 34 seconds left in the first half that cut its deficit to 25-20 at the break.
But just as they did in Tuesday’s region semifinal against Arts & Sciences, the Bucs used a quick run to erase that deficit and take the lead for good.
“I’d rather do it a different way,” Boyd-Buchanan coach Cole Rose said with a laugh. “Hopefully we’ll learn that we don’t have to do it that way every time. I don’t think we came out very strong tonight, but Grace also came out and played really well, especially in that first quarter.”
Over the first 2:31 of the second half, the Bucs stormed to an 11-0 run that ended with a 31-25 advantage. Austin Walker contributed the first seven points in that span, and finished with all of his 13 points coming in the decisive third period.
Allen added two free throws in the run, and McMillan finished it with a steal and layup. He said the Bucs’ defensive effort was the key to turning the tide in the second half.
“It’s just getting stops, and working as a team defensively,” McMillan said. “All our stuff comes through defense, and playing as a team instead of going one-on-one.”
Having watched Boyd-Buchanan storm past CSAS with a fourth-quarter run on Tuesday, the Golden Eagles were prepared for the one that came in Thursday’s final, but still couldn’t find a way to stop it.
“Talking about stopping their big runs and actually doing it are two different things,” Grace coach Jon Mattheiss said. “We kept the pace kind of slow in the first half, and that definitely benefitted us. As soon as they got the pace going a little more to their liking, we didn’t play as smart as we should have, and that helped their run. They did what they wanted to do, and we quit doing what we had done well in the first half. We have to give them all the credit. They’re just a better team than us right now.”
Boyd-Buchanan ended the third quarter up 42-35, and held Grace scoreless for nearly four minutes to start the fourth. QD Cox gave the Bucs a 20-point lead when he stole the ball and drove it in for a score with 3:48 remaining, and the starters came out for both teams a few minutes later.
Allen and McMillian each finished with 13 points for the Bucs (25-7) in the rematch of last week’s District 5-A final, and Zach Jenkins totaled 10. Jeremiah Nason earned all-tournament honors off the bench for Boyd-Buchahan, and was joined there by Hall, Walker and MVP McMillan.
“Justus does a lot of things for us that don’t necessarily show up in the stats,” Rose said. “He deserved to get recognized. Specifically, in these last three games when we’ve really needed big plays, he’s always been the one to come up with one.”
Grace (12-15), which was forced to play without injured starter Blake Savard, was led by 12 points apiece from seniors Austin Powell and Josh Smith. The Golden Eagles now must travel to face Region 4 champion Watertown for their sectional Monday, but are encouraged by knowing they’re still just one win away from the state tournament.
“That’s what we talked about in the locker room,” Mattheiss said. “As much as we wanted to win this game, Monday is really the one that matters. We have one opportunity to go to state, and that’s what we’ve worked for all year.”
The young Bucs now turn their attention to Monday at 7 p.m., when they will host Clarkrange with the knowledge that only one win stands between them and the goal they set at the beginning of the season.
“We’ll try to get some film and some scouting reports,” Rose said. “Mostly we’ll just try to keep them loose and not let them get too nervous and overly excited.”
(E-mail Jaime Barrett at email@example.com)
Region 3-A championship at Sale Creek
BOYD-BUCHANAN 58, GRACE ACADEMY 44
Grace Academy 13 12 10 9 -- 44
Boyd-Buchanan 14 6 22 16 -- 58
Grace (44) – Slack 4, Hughes, Swanson 3, Hernandez, Josh Smith 12, Tisdale 2, Godsey 3, McQueen 8, Mattheny, Mason, Austin Powell 12, Cooke.
Boyd-Buchanan (58) – Hall Allen 13, Justus McMillan 13, Cox 5, Austin Walker 13, Zach Jenkins 10, Arendale, Nason 2, Clarke, Walker, Hodge.
3-point goals: Grace 6 (Smith 3, Swanson, Godsey, Powell); Boyd-Buchanan 4 (Walker 3, Allen).
All-tournament team: John Hall (Silverdale); Chaison Gordon (CSAS); Austin Powell, Josh Smith (Grace); MVP Justus McMillan, Hall Allen, Austin Walker, Jeremiah Nason.