William Buford will hope for easier journeys but similar results in future trips to Value City Arena.
The Toledo Libbey swingman, who was named Ohio's Mr. Basketball by the Associated Press earlier this week, helped lead the 24-2 Cowboys past previously undefeated St. Paris Graham 51-44 Thursday afternoon in a Division II state semifinal at his future basketball home in Columbus.
And, yes, "helped lead" is the way he prefers the effort be portrayed.
"My teammates and I feel like you're good as your last player on the bench," he said after posting game highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds. "We feel like we're all just equal."
He said they share the burden of leadership, a story corroborated by Libbey head coach LeRoy Bates.
"The leadership on this team comes from all the seniors," Bates said. "You could hear the seniors at the timeouts encouraging the other guys on the court."
Buford needed 24 field goal attempts – he made 9 – and added a trio of free throws to accumulate his points. He also grabbed 10 rebounds had three assists and three turnovers to fill out his stat sheet while playing all 32 minutes.
Despite playing for the first time since earning the Mr. Basketball distinction, Buford said he felt no additional pressure.
He got plenty of attention, of course, but that is normal, and Graham head coach Brook Cupps did not draw up any out-of-the-ordinary defenses to stop Buford.
"The only thing we tried to do to Buford is when he caught the ball was try to get up into him and not allow him to just face up and shoot over us," Cupps said. "Make him put it down and allow our other four guys to help guard him. I thought for the most part we made him take some tough shots. He ended up with 21 but he was 9 for 24. That's not a horrible job on Mr. Basketball in Ohio. I thought our kids dug in and did a decent job on him."
"My teammates were telling me to shoot, trying to get me to score," Buford said. "Everyone was distributing the ball and they were able to score, too, so I really didn't feel any pressure."
The main helpers were Lance Jones, who had 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals, along with Bradley Burton, who had seven points and five rebounds. Both made key plays in the final minute after Graham cut what had been a 10-point lead to two.
Throughout the game, Bates heard his star pupil encourage his teammates to shoot more rather than worry about what the Falcon defense was doing to him.
"That's typical," Bates said. "He's not a selfish player. That will go a long way in his development at the next level."
Cupps, whose team previously beat Ohio State-bound center B.J. Mullens and Canal Winchester in a regional semifinal, was convinced of the potential of Buford, whom Scout ranks the 12th-best senior in the nation.
"He's a great athlete. He's a great player. I thought he did a great job of keeping his poise," Cupps said. "We tried to make him take as tough of shots as we could guarding him with a 6-2 kid, but he's just a tremendous athlete. He's going to get shots. He's going to get points. I thought he did a good job of staying within the team."
Next up is a Saturday morning trip to the state final, a place the Cowboys have not been since they finished as state runners-up to Dayton Chaminade in Class AA in 1966. Libbey has never won the state championship.