MACON — Ultimately, it was just too much Tory Ozment.
Buford's Michigan State-bound guard answered every Flowery Branch run, sometimes on her own, pushing the Lady Wolves to a 60-49 win over the Lady Falcons Thursday in the Class 5A girls championship game at the Macon Coliseum.
The win cemented the Buford senior class as one of the best ever with their third title in four years and second consecutive since joining Class 5A.
“For this senior class I’m just so proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish in their four years,” Buford coach Gene Durden said. “We’ll definitely enjoy this one for a while. But Tory was the difference, for sure.”
Ozment poured in 28 points, including six straight in a critical stretch after the Lady Falcons cut a 10-point Buford lead to 40-36 late in the third quarter. Ozment’s burst reclaimed a double-digit lead for Buford, and Flowery Branch never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
Ozment also finished with 7 rebounds, dished out 5 assists, had 2 big steals, and hit 9 of 10 free throws for the game, many of those coming when Flowery Branch fouled while trying to inch back into the game.
It wasn’t the exact game plan they had drawn up, but Durden said sometimes you just have to let go.
“Tory has been doing that for us for four years,” he said. “Sometimes we just let her turn it loose. She played a tremendous game. She did a great job of controlling the game for us.”
It was the fourth meeting of the season between the two Region 8-AAAAA foes. Unfortunately for the Lady Falcons, who were making their first ever state championship game appearance, it was almost a carbon-copy of the first three.
Yet Ozment noted that they weren’t taking anything for granted.
“This game was the only one that mattered,” she said. “We have so many seniors, and this is how we wanted to go out, and it is just amazing.”
The game started the way many expected with both defenses controlling the early action. Branch opened with a zone that gave Buford trouble, as did the Buford press for the Lady Falcons.
The game was scoreless for nearly the first two minutes as the teams combined for four turnovers and went a combined 0-for-5 from the field. The first points didn’t come until the Lady Falcons’ Caroline Wysocki hit a pair of free throws. Taniyah Worth got the game’s first basket with a driving runner for a 4-0 Flowery Branch lead.
Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez thought the opening minutes went the way they wanted. But when they came out of their zone they couldn’t contain Ozment and the Lady Wolves’ weave offense.
“I thought the zone gave them trouble, and we had a good start,” she said. “But they’re a good team, and you’re not going to be able to hold them down forever.”
Buford’s first points did not come until more than three minutes elapsed on two Ozment free throws. Ozment drained a long 3-pointer moments later to give the Lady Wolves a 5-4 lead.
The teams then traded five more leads with one tie at 9-9 in the first quarter. Ashlee Locke gave the Branch an 11-9 advantage on a basket off a Worth assist, but Buford took the final one on another Ozment 3-pointer and Audrey Weiner capped a 7-2 run to close out the period with a steal and layup at the buzzer for a 14-11 lead.
Ebony Grant pushed the Lady Wolves’ lead to 16-11 early in the second quarter, but the Lady Falcons pulled within 19-18 on a Jenna Sutton basket off another Worth dish with 2:12 left in the half. Ozment kept the Branch at bay in the final minutes, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and converting a three-point play, and CJ Johnson provided another huge steal and layup at the halftime buzzer for Buford for a 30-23 lead.
In the the first three meetings, Buford took control of each one with a three-minute blitz to open the second half. In this one, Flowery Branch opened the third quarter with a 6-2 run to pull within 32-29. Yet Ozment answered again, capping a 7-0 run with a driving basket two minutes later.
Worth dished out an assist on a Locke basket and then added one of her own before posting a screen for Branch senior Lexie Sengkhemmee to knock down a long 3-pointer that pulled the Lady Falcons within 40-36 with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter. The basket represented Sengkhemmee’s only points of the game, however, as she had two 3-point attempts blocked in the first half.
Ozment answered with two free throws to close out the third quarter and opened the fourth with a fastbreak basket and two more free throws to push the Lady Wolves lead back double-digits, 46-36, less than a minute into the final period.
Durden said a switch away from their patented full-court press was a key element.
“We went more to a half-court press because they were getting some easy baskets against our full-court trap, and I think that changed things,” he said. “Taniyah is such a great player, and you can’t let her get to the paint, and she was able to get some easy baskets against our press.”
A pair of Worth free throws with 3:36 remaining hauled the Lady Falcons back to within 50-42, but an Ozment steal and layup capped a 4-0 Buford response in just 30 seconds for a 54-42 advantage.
“This is what you play for at the end of the season and I’m just so proud of my teammates,” Ozment said. “We have had a lot of adversity this year. We have 10 seniors and 16 freshman and so for us to lead the freshman and end our season like this means a lot.”
Grant finished with 12 points for Buford. Tate Walters added 8 for the Lady Wolves.
Wysocki had 10 points, Sutton 7 points, and Locke 6 points for the Lady Falcons.