Down one with perhaps just one possession left and a chance at the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association final four on the line, Williamsville South put the ball in the hands of Jordan Buell.
Buell had gone just 1 for 6 from the field to that point Saturday night, but the Billies’ philosophy has been to shoot the open shot, regardless of whether the player taking it is “0 for 5 or 5 for 5,” coach Gabe Michaels said. And Buell is a reliable option from behind the arc.
That trust paid off, as the Billies worked the ball around the perimeter to set up Buell for a game-winning three-pointer with 10.2 seconds left that sent Williamsville South to its first-ever state final four in Glens Falls.
South defeated Batavia, 53-51, in the Class A Far West Regional at the Buffalo State Sports Arena. After holding the lead throughout the majority of the night, the Billies lost their advantage late and needed some heroics.
“That’s been our goal all year,” Michaels said. “This makes us the best team to ever play at South because we’ve gone the furthest. It means a lot.”
Buell, who finished with six points off two three-pointers, was near speechless after the game as teammates congratulated him.
“I don’t even know what to think,” he said. “So many emotions were going on. We saw 10 seconds left so we knew it wasn’t over but we had to keep composed … It was amazing.”
Batavia took its first lead since the first quarter when Malachi Chenault hit one of two free throws to make it 51-50 near the final minute.
The Billies then moved the ball around with precise passes – as they had done all night – until Myles Hall finally found Buell open in the corner so he could shoot the three.
Williamsville South led, 26-20, at the half and built a 37-23 lead in the third quarter. That’s when Batavia – and Sean Ayala specifically – began the comeback.
The Blue Devils went on a 17-4 run to cut Williamsville South’s lead to 44-43, before eventually taking the lead at 51-50. Batavia’s Ayala was the main catalyst as he hit a three near the end of the third to make it a five-point game and proceeded to score 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter.
But Buell’s late-game heroics proved the deciding factor.
“We didn’t handle the run that well, but you build the lead the rest of the game so you have a chance to pull it out late,” Michaels said.
The Williamsville South duo of brothers Greg and Graham Dolan led the Billies for the majority of the night as they combined for 33 points and six three-pointers. They even set each up for a few of their buckets, including Greg feeding Graham for an emphatic one-handed dunk to make it a 35-23 Williamsville South lead midway through the third quarter.
“We just love basketball,” Greg Dolan said. “That’s what brings us together so that’s what we do.”
The win was particularly meaningful for Williamsville South because it also avenged last season’s loss in the regional final.
“Such a special game for us,” Greg Dolan said. “We wanted it for our seniors.”