Alex Buford uses his father Darryll’s memory as motivation every time he steps on the court.
Darryll Buford, who tragically died of a heart attack in November, 2009, never saw his son defeat Collegiate, the three-time New York State Federation Class B champion, and his son didn’t want to end his career without doing so.
“I was very tired of losing to them,” Buford said. “It had to eventually end. I knew it was gonna happen [today].”
He made sure of that, scoring 18 points in Poly Prep’s 55-45 victory in the Ivy Prep League last week. The Blue Devils remained atop the division with Fieldston, a game ahead of second-place Collegiate, after snapping their seven-game losing streak against the Upper West Side school.
“We always felt we could be the best, but now we actually came out and proved it tonight by executing and doing what we were prepared to do,” senior forward Bradley Gifford said.
At the final horn, Gifford embraced Buford in a heartfelt hug and told him his father was watching down on them and would be proud.
“I think about him all day every day, every time I go out and play,” Buford said. “He was definitely in my heart and mind today.”
Gifford added 13 points and Anthony Reyes and Jay Vido tallied 12 apiece for the Blue Devils. Rob Wechsler paced Collegiate with 22 points.
The two seniors were integral to the victory, Gifford taking charge in the first half and Buford doing the same after halftime. Gifford scored nine points before the intermission, including a step-back 3-pointer at the horn to give Poly Prep a 25-17 lead.
Buford, a 6-foot-3 forward headed to Lehigh in the fall on a football scholarship, made even more big shots in the game’s seminal moments.
Trailing by 14 at one point, Collegiate got within four on a Zach Gwathney 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter, but Buford answered with two free throws. When the lead was down to five later in the frame, he got free for a jump shot from the right corner and added two free throws the next time down the court.
Buford and Giufford shutdown Collegiate forward Connor Huff, holding him to four points; he had 14 in the first encounter, won by the Dutchmen.
“I thought they played like seniors, I thought they played like young men [yesterday],” Poly Prep coach Bill McNally said. “I’m glad they performed today.”
Buford said: “It was our job to lead the team to victory.”
Collegiate, meanwhile, has now dropped two league games in a row and needs help just to finish tied atop the league. Huff struggled and so did junior point guard Ryan Frankel, who was frequently double-teamed and didn’t score until midway through the third quarter. Wechsler picked up the slack, eclipsing the 20-point plateau, but didn’t get enough help.
“You rely on other people to step up and take big shots, like we did in the first game, but we didn’t get it done,” Collegiate coach Ray Voelkel said.
McNally, the Poly Prep coach, played down the importance of the victory, saying he was pleased with the victory, but didn’t take any satisfaction from finally topping Collegiate. He’s merely happy his players picked up a road win in a hostile environment and remained tied atop the division with Fieldston.
His players, however, couldn’t hide their satisfaction.
“It means a lot because we lost to them before this season, we definitely wanted to get them back. We feel every season is a new season, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hold previous losses in our head. We used that as extra motivation.”