The ball seemed to stay aloft for an eternity after being sent toward the rim, some 60 feet away from the basket. It rotated, round and round, and looked to be on-target. Every eye in Boyd Buchanan’s gym remained affixed to this singular orange object. If it stayed true, Notre Dame would triumph on one of the greatest shots of the decade.
A once-in-a-lifetime moment if it went in………
……..but it didn’t.
A deafening Boyd Buchanan crowd exploded with joy as their Buccaneers held on for the 48-46 regional championship win.
Notre Dame would not avenge their district championship loss. It was a game that featured a comeback from down double-digits, stalling offenses and fastbreaks, backbreaking threes answered by daggers of a similar kind, methodical post moves and driving layups, defenses on a string and inexplicable miscues. It was a championship game that lived up to the hype and more.
“Our number one goal is to have a glorious death,” said Boyd Buchanan senior Luke Stum, who recently came back from injury. “Wherever we do go out at, we want to do it with us doing the best we can do on the floor. For us, I feel that’s the state championship. ”
Notre Dame’s Bryson Smith, the Irish’s high scorer with 13, appeared destined for a 40 point night when he scored eight straight for the Irish to start the game. The sharpshooter was the early target man for Notre Dame’s deliberate offense, one that often saw them holding the ball and patiently moving it around the perimeter. Forward Tim Vaughn often initiated these possessions by driving into the defense, and then resetting if walled off. On his last basket of the quarter, Smith leaked out in transition and got a rare easy layup when Vaughn grabbed the rebound and fired it ahead.
“Bryson was taking some highly contested shots and knocking them down,” Boyd Coach Josh Templeton said. “I didn’t think we played terribly. I thought we played a little stagnant. But it wasn’t like we were throwing the ball around and turning it over. Notre Dame is just that good defensively.”
The Buccaneers offense was haphazard because of the pressure Notre Dame put on Boyd guards Ryan Lopez and Caden Johnson. Sophomore Jacob Shockley relieved pressure created by the 2-3 zone by hitting a midrange jumper, and Lopez got free for a triple from the wing. Virginia football commit Carson Gay showed he had talents in more than one sport in the quarter, mostly on defense and on the boards.
He often found himself dueling with the sturdy Vaughn under the boards, with the two 6’6 giants duking it out as the tallest players on their team. Gay blocked shots and gobbled up precious rebounds more often than not, and he screened senior John Craw open for a top of the arc three pointer to give Boyd Buchanan a brief 9-8 lead. But Vaughn came right back and corralled a teammates miss and threw it in with his right hand, thus giving the Irish a one point lead after one quarter.
Notre Dame owned the second quarter as Boyd’s offense failed to get anything going outside of one Shockley midrange shot and a couple of free throws. It should be noted they were missing sensational and rangy freshman Ace Bailey. Vaughn played the role of the point forward masterfully, with the rest of the team orbiting around him as his offensive gravity forced Boyd defenders to collapse around him on drives.
Cal McCormick and Christian Robinson both hit baseline shots from close, and Cal Price gave Notre Dame a 20-11 lead when he played the role of the trailer and buried an open three from up top. On Notre Dame’s final basket of the quarter, Vaughn held the ball for over 30 seconds before he started a series of passes that led to one more Price make in the form of a cutting layup. Things looked pretty dire for Boyd Buchanan at this stage.
“Bryson is a heck of a player,” coach Templeton said. “Tim, Cal, DJ, Ty, all of those guys are really talented and really tough. Sometimes in this game, shots are so hard to come by it just comes down to who is making tough shots.”
A slick cut off-ball by Ty Wilkerson got Notre Dame a 24-13 shortly after halftime, and the Irish were well on their way to blowing out Boyd Buchanan in their own gym. But instead of wilting, the Buccaneers made adjustments. They began to press and disrupted the patient Irish offense. Stum hit a three to start, and then Caden Johnson drove the length of the floor to put in his first bucket of the game in the form of a righthanded layup. And then for the next minute or so, the Buccaneers noticed a crucial mismatch and exploited it for all it was worth.
Jacob Shockley, who ended with a team high 12 points, is listed at 245 pounds and probably feels a few pounds heavier than that when he’s banging through defenders in the post. He carved out space on the block, spun right, and hit the shot while being fouled. On the very next possession, Shockley took up residence in the same spot, but this time hooked it in with his left for two more. Now he was feeling it. On the third trip down the court, he again received the ball on the low block, and did a quick flip shot to cap off an 11-0 run in front of the Boyd student section. Cal Price hit a three to end the run and the score stood 27-26 in the Irish’s favor entering the final quarter.
“Coach has always been big on the Arturo Gatti vs Micky Ward fight, where they said he broke his hand in the second round but he came back in, got knocked down but still got back up,” Stum said. “We watched that before the game, so we felt like something like that was going to happen, because it was an absolute dogfight.”
If the first three quarters were crazy, then the fourth was nothing but insanity and mayhem. Price, who was the closest thing to a hot hand the visitors had at this point, pulled up from midrange on the baseline for two. Then Lopez answered with a layup down the lane with his left hand. Johnson gave the Buccaneers a 32-29 advantage when he stole the ball, tiptoed down the right sideline when everyone else seemed to think he had stepped out of bounds, and then dropped the ball in for a layup.
But Bryson Smith must have had ice water in his veins, because his three from the corner was nothing but net and the score was once again tied. But senior sharpshooter John Craw, who has dealt with injuries and setbacks for so many years, ripped the lead right back. He ran to the left corner on an inbounds play, was shockingly ignored by everyone but inbounder Caden Johnson, and knocked it down to put Boyd back on top. And then after Vaughn forced a foul on an offensive rebound and hit one free throw, Craw caused pandemonium when he took and made another three from the exact same spot.
There were a lot of struggles, but that’s a good preparation for life,” Craw said. “You can’t fall, you have to keep pushing and keep moving forward, and trust in God.”
Then Notre Dame senior guard Wesley Jones picked a great time to make his only shot of the game when he coolly pushed the ball downcourt and poured in a long-range basket for three. Caden Johnson continued the back and forth scoring outburst by making a crazy righthanded hanging layup plus the foul on one possession, and then beating a double team before throwing up a shot eventually put back by Gay.
But as was the theme of the night, every time one of the teams would hope to pull away, a player would pull an incredible play out of the air to keep their team within striking distance. Notre Dame sniping specialist D.J Brown’s shot was on-target from the corner to cut the lead to only 43-40, and then the Irish began to play the foul game.
“It was like every time we would go on a little run, they’d hit a shot,” coach Templeton said. “Literally everybody that played did something huge.”
Lopez hit his two freebies to push the lead to five, but Tim Vaughn came right back down and canned a triple from the wing to make it a one-score game again. Johnson only made one free throw on the next foul, but he also grabbed the rebound after Notre Dame missed their shot by out-jumping everyone. He made one of two to push the lead to 47-43.
That four point lead was cut to a measly one after D.J Brown made his second gargantuan shot from some 20 feet away in front of the visitor’s section and his own bench. After Johnson split the pair of ensuing free throws, Notre Dame had two seconds to make something happen. For the amount of time they had, the Irish got about as good of a look as they could have asked for, but it just was not their night. Boyd Buchanan held on for the win, and they cut down the nets as part of a joyous celebration. The Buccaneers will host a home playoff game in the state tournament on Feb. 27.
“They want to keep playing, that’s the main thing,” coach Templeton said. “They’re not trying to just win championships. They just want to play one more game with each other, because they like to be together.”
NOTRE DAME 10 12 5 19 - 46
BOYD BUCHANAN 9 4 13 22 - 48
NOTRE DAME (46) - Vaughn 5, McCormick 2, Bryson Smith 13, Wilkerson 2, Brown 8, Robinson 2, Jones 3, Cal Price 11.
BOYD BUCHANAN (48) - Caden Johnson 11, Ryan Lopez 11, Karson Gay 2, Luke Stum 3, John Craw 9, Jacob Shockley 12.
3-POINT GOALS: Notre Dame 9 (Smith 3, Price 2, Brown 2, Jones, Vaughn); Boyd Buchanan 5 (Craw 3, Lopez, Shockley).
(You can reach the author at email@example.com or on Twitter at @joseph_dycus)