MACON — The trophy he waved triumphantly high over his head may look the same, but the expression on Marcus Watson’s face Friday night told a different story.
“Oh, it’s definitely different,” the senior Buford forward said after leading the Wolves to their second Class 5A state title in three seasons with a 76-69 win over Fayette County at the Macon Coliseum. He also was part of the Wolves title team in 2017 as a sophomore.
“The seniors wanted to go out as champions and we did. You don’t always get to do that so it’s a little more special I think.”
Watson poured in 33 points and ripped down 10 rebounds and was joined by senior Eric Coleman, who had 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks, as the pair was no match for the Tigers defense.
And Buford coach Eddie Martin said it was a good thing they did.
“Well, we needed both of them to step up because (Fayette) took Donell (Nixon) out of the game,” Buford coach Eddie Martin said. “Donell does so many things for us and I think they decided to focus on him. But Marcus and Eric just took control.”
Nixon finished with just 8 points and one 3-pointer after pumping in 20 points on six 3-pointers in a win over Southwest DeKalb in the semifinal round.
The Wolves (29-2) led from virtually start-to-finish opening the game with a 6-0 run, all by Watson, including a monster dunk on a fastbreak, and closed out the game with a 16-11 run. In between the Tigers (26-6) led just twice, at 15-14 on a Ricky Knight 3-pointer in the second quarter, and at 55-53 on two Terrell Bradley free throws to open the fourth quarter. The game was tied four times, the last at 58 on another Knight trey with 5:51 left in the game.
Knight repeatedly kept Fayette County in the game. The senior was a blistering 6-of-8 from 3-point range finishing with 26 points. He helped lead the Tigers back from a 12-point first half deficit.
“That team can really shoot the ball,” Martin said. “But this group was hungry and just stayed focused.”
The keys for Buford were a huge 42-23 rebounding edge and hitting 28-of-38 free throws compared to just 18-of-22 for the Tigers. It’s the little things that have been driving the Wolves since a disappointing 59-54 loss to Loganville on Jan. 11.
They won their final 14 games with that game a constant reminder. That and a loss to Miller Grove in the second round of the 2018 playoffs.
“This team has been hungry ever since that Miller Grove loss,” Miller said. “But it was the loss to Loganville that I think really woke everyone up. They’ve really focused on the little things that you have to do to get to this point.
“Defense and rebounding are what win championships. We did a great job in both of areas ever since the Loganville loss.”
After Knight tied the game for the final time, Watson and Coleman went back to work. After a pair Watson free throws, Coleman dropped in a long 3-pointer and converted a three-point play as the Wolves ran back out to a 66-58 lead. The Tigers got to within 74-69 on another Knight 3-pointer with 38 seconds left but no closer the rest of the way.
“Coach told us in a timeout that is was time to go all in in the final,” Watson said. “That’s what we did. It’s just a great feeling to out like this.”