The Troup Tigers were trailing by a point when Buckner ended up with the ball with a little more than a minute remaining in a tournament game Wednesday against Lee High School out of Montgomery, Ala.
Buckner didn’t hesitate.
He slashed his way to the basket and laid the ball in to give the Tigers a 64-63 lead, and the senior went on to add a pair of free throws and another basket in the final minute.
Buckner finished with a game-high 21 points, and guard Demetrius Trammell added 17 points to lift the Tigers (4-1) to a 71-67 victory in an opening-round game in the Tiger Communications Holiday Classic at Auburn High.
Troup will play again on Friday in a winner’s bracket game with a spot in Saturday’s championship game on the line.
The Tigers trailed by as many as five points late in the fourth quarter, but they persevered and found a way.
Buckner, one of the few veterans on an experienced team, did his best to keep everyone’s spirits up.
“I just had to tell them to get your mind right and play hard,” Buckner said.
The Tigers were down 61-56 with less than three minutes remaining, but they fought back and got within a point at 63-62 when Quay Wilkerson scored with 1:40 left.
Buckner then went on a personal 6-0 run to put the Tigers up 68-65 with 40 seconds remaining.
The Generals got as close as a point with 13 seconds left, but the Tigers kept the lead the rest of the way.
Trammell made a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 70-67 with three seconds left.
After the Generals threw the ensuing inbounds pass away, the Tigers got the ball back, and Wilkerson made a free throw to seal it.
Troup head coach Thermond Billingslea liked how his team responded after falling behind in the final quarter on the heels of a 12-0 run by Lee.
“They finally went ahead, and now you find out what you’re made of,” Billingslea said. “And I’m thinking, well, we’re fixing to find out whether we want to win this ballgame, or say, well that’s enough and let’s go home. They wanted to win. Things just worked out well for us.”
The Tigers dominated the action for much of the first half, going up by as many as 12 points, and they were ahead 37-28 at the half.
The Tigers still led by eight with 1:45 left in the third quarter, but the Generals went on an 8-0 run to deadlock the score at 49-49 heading into the final period.
The Generals then scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to cap a 4-0 run, and the Tigers were reeling.
“We just started turning the ball over one after the other and not taking care of it,” Billingslea said. “That’s the sign of a young team, an inexperienced team, especially from the (guard) spot.”
The Tigers found their footing and reclaimed the lead with 4:54 left in the game on a three-point play by Trammell, but the Generals scored the next seven points to take a five-point lead.
Back came the Tigers with a 10-2 run, and this time, they were able to keep the lead.
“We were dead in the water. It wasn’t looking good,” Billingslea said. “But a couple of defensive stands here, and a couple of made shots there got us back in the ballgame.”