The Buffalo High School Bison boys basketball team clinched the No. 3 East seed on Saturday during the 3A East regional tournament and faced Lyman in the quarterfinal round of the state tournament at noon on Wednesday. Scores for the state game were not available at press time but can be found on the Bulletin’s Facebook page.
To qualify for the state tournament, the Bison competed in three games in two separate regional quadrangulars last week. The first quadrant game was the most crucial because the loser would be eliminated from the tournament, and Buffalo dismantled the Newcastle Dogies 70-25 to earn its berth in the state tournament. Despite eventually nabbing the big win, an obviously nervous start from the Bison had them trailing for the first five and a half minutes of the opening quarter before taking a 10-8 lead on an easy fastbreak layup.
“Newcastle has a terrific coach, one of the better ones in the state,” Bison coach Tanner Hart said. “So we knew they were going to be ready for the game. They came out on a 6-0 run, and I don’t know if it was nerves or we were just amped up to go.”
The Bison stepped up their defense in the second half of the opening quarter and turned to their strong full-court press defense in the second quarter. This gave the Dogies trouble on offense and offered a plethora of turnovers for the Bison, which helped spark an offensive explosion that extended Buffalo’s lead to 49-17 at halftime.
“We switched to a 2-2-1 press that covered the sideline better to get some steals,” Hart said. “Those defensive changes got us some good looks and got us the ball and got some really fast looks.”
In the second half, strong defense continued from the Bison, who slowed the offensive pace to help take time off the clock and finish out the game. In the fourth quarter, Hart rested the starters, giving bench players the opportunity for significant playing time.
Senior Hunter Stone led the team with 13 points, senior Coy Johnson contributed 12 points and six assists, and senior Hyrum Hatch and freshman Eli Patterson contributed 11 points apiece.
Just a few hours after that win, the Bison faced Douglas in the regional quadrant championship game. Despite a hard-fought effort, the Bison fell 56-54, unable to knock off Douglas for a third time this season.
A back-and-forth first quarter kept the game close, but Buffalo opened up an 11-7 lead at the break. The Bison offense, however, was not clicking at the high pace it had been to close out the regular season.
“It appeared their focus was to rush back and stop our transition, which they did a good job of,” Hart said. “We had to earn possession by possession.”
In the second quarter, the Bison extended their lead to double digits multiple times, but the Bearcats found a way to hang around, eventually closing the gap to 24-20 at halftime.
A 7-0 Douglas run to start the second half gave the Bearcats their first lead of the game, but the Bison offense answered with a run of their own to take a 42-30 lead, the largest of the night.
As they had in the second quarter, however, Buffalo was unable to put the Bearcats away, and with just two minutes to go in the game, Douglas retook a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Hart said that some poor Bison shooting and passing choices late in the game helped the Bearcats get back into it, and foul trouble for Patterson and Stone was particularly hard on the team’s defense. Hart said he still felt good about the performance, given that it took stellar outside shooting, Bison foul trouble and playing on Douglas’ home court for the Bearcats to get the win.
Johnson led the team in scoring with 15 points, while Hatch and Stone nearly achieved double doubles, with 11 points and nine rebounds and 14 points and nine rebounds, respectively.
With the loss, the Bison then faced Wheatland on Saturday, winning 58-48 to secure the No. 3 East seed at the state tournament, which Hart said he told the team was preferable to the No. 2 or the No. 4 seed, based on the other half of the bracket.
“Winning a regional championship is one of our goals, and that’s now out of reach,” he said. “But we’re still in a good position to put ourselves in a good position at state.”
Hart said Wheatland came out with a tough defensive press that held the Bison down early, but strong play and 20 points from Patterson helped extend the lead later in the game. Seniors Rule, Hatch and Stone each scored nine.
Hart said the Bison match up well with Lyman, and the team’s offensive patience is especially crucial against the tough half-court zone that Lyman employs.
“It’s a matchup we wanted as coaches, but every matchup at state is a difficult one and they pose a pretty good challenge for us,” he said.