The Olive Branch Lady Quistors celebrate their second straight state girls basketball championship after a 75-51 victory over top-ranked Clinton Saturday, March 8 at Ole Miss. Game Most Valuable Player Endya Buford scored 40 points for Olive Branch in the win. Bob Bakken|DTT
The Olive Branch Lady Quistors celebrate their second straight state girls basketball championship after a 75-51 victory over top-ranked Clinton Saturday, March 8 at Ole Miss. Game Most Valuable Player Endya Buford scored 40 points for Olive Branch in the win.
If Olive Branch’s Endya Buford needed to reassure her future coach Melissa McFerrin at the University of Memphis about signing her to a scholarship, Buford’s final high school performance likely took care of that.
A senior, Buford scored 40 points in leading her Lady Quistors (24-6) to a resounding 75-51 MHSAA 6A state girls’ basketball championship victory over the Clinton Lady Arrows (25-5) Saturday night at The Pavilion at Ole Miss in Oxford.
Buford was named the championship game's Most Valuable Player to add to last year's championship game MVP and after last season was named the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year, an award she may possibly win again.
Buford and the Lady Quistors came into the game ranked fourth in Mississippi girls’ basketball, according to the national high school sports service MaxPreps, to Clinton’s number one ranking overall and in 6A.
But Olive Branch made an early statement that those numbers should have been reversed, taking a 17-9 lead in the first quarter and a 21-14 lead at the end of the period.
The Lady Quistors roared out in the second quarter to a 30-16 lead, scoring nine of the first 11 points. However, Clinton followed with a 10-point run to get within 30-26 with 3:30 left before halftime. The Lady Arrows would score six of the last nine points and would trail 37-34 at intermission.
Late in the first half, Olive Branch senior Nadia Gillespie, while battling for a loose ball, had a Clinton player fall on her and that resulted in Gillespie injuring her finger to the point where she couldn’t continue.
She was the Lady Quistors’ second-leading scorer with 10 points, but would not see any further action with the injury until the final moments and the title had been clinched.
Coming out for the second half, Olive Branch seemed to play inspired for Gillespie, and Buford in particular. She scored seven of her team’s first nine points coming out of the locker room to push the Lady Quistors to a 46-35 lead with six minutes remaining.
“My coach told us to do it for her so we did what we did,” Buford said. “We did it for her.”
When Buford hit a three-point jumper with 3:43 left in the quarter, Olive Branch had pushed the lead to 12 points at 51-39 and it never was less than 10 the rest of the game.
“One of the things I wanted them to do was give us a run that was so insurmountable that they kind of got devastated by it,” Olive Branch coach Jason Thompson said. “We wanted to have a lot of defensive stops in a row and then find a way to score on those defensive stops.”
Free throws by Buford late in the game pushed the margin to 72-51 and Trinity Pleas’ charity tosses with just seconds left resulted in the final score and the biggest margin of the game.
Thompson said he was glad that Buford performed on a big stage and show the state the type of basketball player she is.
“When she’s on the court, it’s just her performing her artwork and the court is her canvas,” Thompson said. “The kid has matured and just became a fantastic ballplayer. I’m glad she was able to put on display what I’ve seen from her at an early age.”
Officially, Saturday’s win marked Thompson’s eighth state championship, six at H.W. Byers and the last two in Olive Branch. That number does not include the 2017 6A championship victory against Starkville, a title later awarded to Starkville when Olive Branch was found to have used an ineligible player in the playoffs.
Not ranking any particular championship as being more special, Thompson still said this year’s team was special.
“One thing I’ve really been impressed with is how they stick together and always seem to find a way to perform and not let adversity bother them,” Thompson said. “They find a way to be resilient and just fight and press through. That’s the part I really admire about them.”
Jakayla Johnson led Clinton in the loss with 10 points.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.