A 5-hour trip to Chattanooga didn’t bother Memphis University School’s basketball team Saturday.
Especially, Bailey Buford.
The Owls walked into the McCallie Sports and Activity Center about 40 minutes before game time, warmed up and then whipped the host Blue Tornado, 56-33, with stunning ease in the Division II-AA state tournament quarterfinals behind Buford’s Marshall Henderson-like shooting performance.
Buford, in his second full season of varsity play, torched the Tornado by hitting 7-of-12 3-pointers – he didn’t take a two-point shot the entire night – for a game-high 21 points in leading the Owls to a state tournament semifinal berth in Nashville next week.
MUS will play the winner of Saturday’s Briarcrest Christian-Montgomery Bell Academy game on Friday at 11:30 a.m. in the Division II-AA state semifinals at David Lipscomb University.
Meanwhile in Memphis, Chattanooga’s last hope for a team in the semifinals also suffered a loss when Christian Brothers defeated Baylor's Red Raiders, 51-38.
“He’s a cold-blooded shooter,” MUS coach Matt Bakke said of Buford. “Bailey is in the top five in Memphis for 3-pointers made and he’s shooting over 40 percent. He doesn’t need much room. He’s not afraid to take a big shot and he’s got the green light to do it.”
The seven 3s – the Owls hit 9 of 17 in the impressive win – set a career-high for the 6-foot-3-inch guard, who was kept off the varsity squad until last year by his small frame.
Every time McCallie (11-13), the No. 1 seed from the East/Middle Region, tried to make a run at the Owls, Buford slammed the door shut with another 3.
No matter where Buford is on the court, he’s as fearless as the free-spirited Henderson at Ole Miss.
Hand in his face, shoot the ball. Two defenders on him, shoot that rock, brother. Off a screen, bombs away.
“Sometimes I think about Marshall Henderson (the sensational Ole Miss 3-point phenom) when I’m out there,” Buford said. “He’s got a green light all the time and that’s how I get to play here at MUS.”
Does Buford have the same type no fear mentality that Henderson exhibits?
“Pretty much,” he said.
The sharpshooter said that just developed last season.
“Last year was my first year playing varsity and that’s when it started,” he said. “I just started letting it fly. I get a good sense for how I’ll shoot after a couple of shots. Tonight my first shot went in and I felt great.”
Buford must have been absolutely giddy when his second 3-pointer from the left corner swished the net to give the Owls a quick 6-0 lead and they eventually went 9-0 on the Tornado.
Down 13-1, McCallie scored seven straight points – the first five came from sophomore JaVaughn Craig – to pull within five points of the Owls. But Sam Fowlkes’ steal and layup and a Buford 3 from the left wing pushed the margin to 10 at 18-8.
MUS’ lead was 22-14 at halftime, thanks in large part to 14 McCallie turnovers.
“We’re young and struggled with turnovers the whole year,” McCallie coach Dan Wadley said. “That just doesn’t change in your last game and tonight we made way too many (17 in the game).”
Craig’s jumper from the wing pulled McCallie within 26-21 midway through the third quarter.
Buford ripped fourth 3 from the left wing and followed up with his fifth long-range bomb 63 seconds later from straight on and MUS – the West Region’s No. 3 seed – had a 32-21 lead at the 2:45 mark.
“Every time we made a run to cut the lead, (Buford) hit a 3,” Wadley said. “We knew he could shoot the ball. When we guarded him he didn’t get a good look. When we didn’t, he hit them.”
The Blue Tornado, which for the first time went into the postseason at Middle/East Region champions, got a jumper and three-point play from Winston Whitener – the only Tornado player close to match the Owls’ distinct height advantage – hit a baseline jumper and converted a three-point play and an Adrian Thomas layup to slice the deficit to 34-28.
Buford ran the clock down and nailed a left-wing 3 – his sixth of the game – with 4.8 seconds left in the quarter to give the Owls a 37-28 lead.
The Owls then had their best quarter – they scored 19 points in the final eight minutes and steadily pulled away – of the game to put an end to McCallie’s season.
“We played a tough schedule that prepared us for the tournament,” Bakke said. “Our guys are used to tough competition and although this is a tough place to come and win, we were not intimidated by the situation.
“We played (Memphis) White Station (ranked No. 5 nationally by USA TODAY) and Simeon out of Chicago and in the city of Memphis there are good teams everywhere. Most of our losses were by five or six points. The record isn’t gaudy (in terms of wins), but it is deceiving.”
Buford’s 3 to end the third quarter started a 19-3 run that killed any change McCallie had to pull out a victory and the Owls had a 53-31 advantage with 2:52 left in the game.
Highlighting the spree was Buford’s seventh 3 to give the Owls a 44-31 lead, Galvin’s 3 at the 4:09 mark, plus his two free throws and senior Michael Baker, who led MUS with seven rebounds, all on the defensive end, capped the run with a dunk.
“Bailey is usually on in every game,” Bakke said. “The trick for us is to get him loose and get him shots. If he’s loose for a 3, we’ll take our chances with him shooting. A 3 is like a layup to him. He’s really something special.”
Galvin finished with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting.
Clearly, the night belonged to Buford.
“It’s awesome to play well in a game like this,” he said. “I’m a senior and this is my last year. We struggled at times this season, but to get to the final four is great and I’m glad I could help.”
McCallie, held to 14 first-half points, was led by sophomore JaVaughn Craig’s 12 points. No other Blue Tornado player scored more than six points.
And the Blue Tornado starters – Craig, C.J. Fritz, Adrian Thomas, Winston Whitener and Alex Clark – collectively scored 23 points were a combined 11 of 33 from the field. McCallie was 2-for-12 (16.7 percent) from 3-point distance compared to the Owls’ 52.9 percent (9 of 17) behind the line.
“Their size and wing spans hurt us,” Wadley said. “The 12-day layoff hurt us (snow cost the Tornado two scheduled non-league games). But they drove five hours and had tired legs and yet they beat us. Give MUS a lot of credit.
“I wish we could have done better for Chattanooga, but we will in the future.”
The offensive production against MUS was the second-lowest total for McCallie this season, just behind the 29 it scored in a 41-point loss to Hamilton Heights Christian on Feb. 10 – the last time the Blue Tornado played prior to facing the Owls on Saturday.
MUS departed right after the game for the trip back to Memphis.
Memphis University School 13 9 15 19 – 56
McCallie 4 10 6 5 – 33
MUS (56) – Baker 6, Blankenship, Bailey Buford 21, Chris Galvin 14, Farnsworth, Fowlkes 2, Freeburg 3, Eason, O. Galvin, Jenkins, Counce 2, Prather, Nelson 8.
McCallie (33) – Fritz 2, Bowman, JaVaughn Craig 12, Thomas 4, Whitener 5, Alford 2, Baird, Riddle, Lewis, Littlejohn, Walker 2, McDonald.
3-Point Goals – MUS 9 (Buford 7, C. Galvin, Freeburg), McCallie 2 (Craig 2).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)