HOT SPRINGS -- When Jonesboro Coach Wes Swift took timeout with 1:25 remaining and seven seconds on the shot clock Friday afternoon, he already knew the play call.
But as soon as the Golden Hurricane's inbound pass leaked into the backcourt, it was up to Phillip Tillman to improvise off what was supposed to be an isolation opportunity for the speedy point guard.
Tillman collected, raced down the right side of the lane, and as soon as he leaned for the baseline, Deion Buford-Wesson knew the ball was headed his way.
No. 3. With the corner three-pointer. For the three-peat.
Buford-Wesson's three with 1:16 remaining turned out to be the dagger in Jonesboro's 48-43 victory at Bank OZK Arena, securing the Golden Hurricane's third consecutive state championship as they edged Springdale for the Class 6A boys crown. Buford-Wesson finished with a game-high 15 points and Tillman added 11 in a cagey affair that took more than three quarters to really get rolling.
"What a great play it was by this dude right here," Swift said, pointing to Tillman. "For him to be that late in the shot clock with that much on the line, and for him to understand that [Buford-Wesson] just broke open. We had it screened off, his pass was pinpoint -- just an amazing play."
Although Jonesboro (30-3) opened an 18-10 lead early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs kept within arm's length throughout, closing the deficit to 24-21 at halftime and 32-28 after three quarters.
It was only when Springdale (25-9) scored the first five points of the third quarter -- including a tip-in finish by Isaiah Sealy and a driving layup from Courtland Muldrew -- that the intensity really cranked up with the Bulldogs going in front 33-32.
That lead lasted but 26 seconds with Isaac Harrell tipping in a basket on the other end.
"It's fun when you have a group of seniors that has been here two other times, and for a lot of teams, that little run there in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter...would get you kind of shocked," Swift said of his veteran team. "They were so calm."
None of the Bulldogs had been on this stage before, with Springdale last reaching a title game in 2014. Its two leading scorers -- Muldrew and Sealy -- were both sophomores, and they were joined in the starting five by a classmate and two seniors.
They didn't particularly show their age, but it took a while for Springdale to truly look comfortable.
And as soon as they did, the Golden Hurricane asserted itself.
"When we did take the lead and felt like we'd maybe gained the momentum, we came down and allowed them to get to the basket," Bulldogs Coach Jeremy Price said. "Anytime you're trying to gain momentum, you've got to get the stops to go along with the scores, and we just weren't able to do that."
Springdale actually answered eight seconds after Buford-Wesson's big-time shot as Muldrew drilled a running three-pointer of his own, bringing the Bulldogs back within 43-39.
But when Springdale committed a foul on the ensuing possession, it reset the shot clock with 42 seconds to play, ultimately forcing the Bulldogs to have to continue to foul and extend the game.
Jonesboro never gave them that chance, hitting four of five free throws in the final minute before celebrating on the court, all players putting three fingers in the air.
Not that everyone didn't already know what the Golden Hurricane had accomplished going back-to-back-to-back.
"Whenever you are a kid watching JHS play, it's something that you dream of, getting here and playing," said Harrell, a senior. "Once you finally [win] the first time, it's like, 'Okay, we can do it.' And then each year, we just continued to get better together as a team."
Gallery: 2023 Class 6A Boys Basketball State Championship