It was all Justin Bufford all the time.
After taking Catholic into overtime in their last meeting, the LAMP Golden Tigers hoped to use the lessons learned from that meeting to upset the Knights in the Class 4A Area 4 tournament finals in the Catholic gym on Friday night.
Bufford, Catholic’s scoring wizard, had other ideas.
The senior went 13 of 26 from the field, including 3 of 4 from beyond the 3-point arc, and 9 of 12 from the free-throw line to finish with 38 points, along with 14 rebounds and four blocked shots in the Knights’ 68-51 win over the Tigers.
“They’re so athletic,” LAMP coach Marcus Townsend said. “We tried to push the tempo a little bit by going man-to-man but Bufford just kept putting it in.”
Bufford had nine of the Knights’ first 15 points, but the game was tied at 15-15. He had nine of their 17 second-quarter points, including the final points on a three-point play that gave Catholic a 32-27 halftime lead. As he increased his point total in the third quarter – scoring 13 points with the help of a pair of 3-pointers – the Knights increased the margin, taking a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got to make those runs, that’s kind of how we play,” Catholic coach Mike Curry said. “We had a couple of those in the third and stretched the lead out.”
Bufford’s presence wasn’t only felt on the offensive end of the court. LAMP held the upper hand in the first quarter with the help of Micah Boone and Curry responded by switching Myles Butler and Bufford and Boone was finished scoring, going the final 21 minutes without a point.
“We started out with Myles on him and Myles did a good job on him, then we switched over and put JB on him and put a little more length on him,” Curry said. “JB can guard one (point guard) through five (center).”
DJ Carter added 13 points, six rebounds, three steals and three assists and TJ Dudley had six points to go with his 11 rebounds as the Knights controlled the paint for the final three quarters.
“We played a pretty good first half,” Townsend said, “but when they leaped out on us, I think it gave them confidence and took confidence away from our guys.”
Bufford’s performance was memorable but Curry was most proud of his team’s defensive performance after allowing the Golden Tigers to take the Knights into overtime in the last meeting between the two teams.
“They’re a dangerous ballclub, they’re a good ballclub,” he said. “They can score. They play downhill. We gambled too much when we were pressing (in the last meeting) and that wasn’t our intention. We gambled a lot and they got in the gaps and got downhill. This time, we were more disciplined in what we were doing.”
Catholic’s discipline on defense and dominance on the boards left LAMP little room for offensive production. Boone had eight points early and finished with eight. Quinn Sloane had five points early and finished with eight. Tyler Hoffman had five points early and finished with seven. Felix McGhee had 18 but most of his 16 second-half points came after the game had been decided.
Bufford’s defense on Boone, as it turned out, set the tempo for the remainder of the game.
“The other guys have to step up,” Townsend said. “Micah knows he’s going to be a target. I thought they did a real good cutting off our penetration. It wasn’t our finest hour but we’ve still got life.”
Catholic (27-4) will play host to Ashford in a sub-regional game at home on Tuesday at 7 p.m. LAMP (15-16) will travel to Headland for a sub-regional game on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Last year, LAMP had the longest winning streak in the city snapped by Catholic in the area tournament finals, then went on the road and played its worst game of the season in a sub-regional loss at Dale County. Townsend hopes his team learned from the experience.
“One thing that I know that we learned is we’ve got to keep our composure for four quarters,” he said. “We can’t worry about officiating, other stuff like that, you’ve got to play for four quarters and stay focused.”