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Buford advances to state semifinals with 80-73 win over Cartersville

POSTED: February 28, 2014 1:02 a.m.

BUFORD — The Buford boys’ basketball team didn’t panic. Instead, the Wolves stayed focused on the game plan and methodically worked their way out of a double-digit deficit and into the state semifinals.

After Cartersville senior Corey Tobin drained seven first-half 3-pointers to give the Hurricanes a nine-point lead at halftime, the Wolves rallied behind a dominating defensive effort from senior Montgomery VanGorder, as well as commanding offensive efforts from senior Rakim Lubin and sophomore D’Marcus Simonds to earn an 80-73 win on Wednesday in the Class AAA state quarterfinals.

“That was a heavyweight battle right there,” Buford coach Allen Whitehart said. “I think we went back and forth, and I think we went down as much as 11, and our kids stayed resilient, stayed into it. They were glued to it.”

Lubin finished with a game-high 31 points for Buford (27-5), which has won 20 straight games and will face Callaway in the state semifinals Saturday at 3 p.m. in Milledgeville. Simonds finished with 28 points and senior Matt McMorris added 16 points.

With Tobin hitting nearly every shot he took in the first half for Cartersville (27-3), and Buford using a variation of defenders to attempt to slow him down, the Wolves turned to VanGorder in the second half to limit the Hurricanes’ long-range shooter.

It was a challenge that VanGorder, a quarterback on the state championship Buford football team, asked his coach for during halftime.

“I was like ‘Don’t take me out, put me on him and I’m going to lock him up,’” VanGorder recalled after the game.

VanGorder’s confidence at halftime turned out to be solidified in the second half, as he was able to use his athleticism to visibly frustrate Tobin and limit him to just one 3-point field goal across the final two quarters.

With Tobin slowed down, the Wolves were able to gain traction down low, using the height of Lubin and Keyton Gibson, another player Whitehart praised after the win for being a selfless player devoted to the defensive effort, to limit the Hurricanes’ production.

“All year, that’s been our plan at the end of games. I’ll go in on defense and we’ll have a shooter in there on offense,” Gibson said, explaining the Wolves’ philosophy at the end of games. “I’m perfectly fine with the role.”

Another factor that helped the Buford defense limit the Hurricanes in the second half was turnovers. Buford forced just one turnover in the first half, but forced 13 in the second half.

That defensive effort coupled with a Buford offense that continued to find its form in the fast break allowed the Wolves to rally from an 11-point deficit early in the third quarter.

Cartersville took a 46-35 lead on the opening basket of the third quarter, but Buford put together a 17-8 run to knot the game even at 52-52. But still, Cartersville was able to regain a four-point lead at the end of the period, behind Tobin’s eighth — and final — 3-pointer of the night.

There was still no panic by the Wolves, who had a large home crowd standing for nearly the entire second half.

“It’s a game of runs, we had to fight through the adversity,” Gibson said.

Buford opened the fourth quarter on a 13-3 run to grab a 67-61 lead with 4:35 remaining, even with Simonds on the bench for nearly the entire run due to foul trouble and a bloody nose he suffered when he took an elbow to the face from Tobin in the third quarter.

Cartersville closed back within two, 69-67, which is when the intensity of the game took over.

Cartersville was called for a technical foul and an intentional foul in a span of just 59 seconds, sending Buford to the line for four free throws. McMorris made the first pair and Simonds made two more following a field goal.

It was a six-point swing that gave the Wolves some wiggle room in the closing minute.

“I think (Cartersville) got a little shaken there at the end of it,” Whitehart said. “I could tell with the intentional foul, the elbow.”

Buford led 75-69 before Cartersville’s Ryan Davis converted a field goal to bring the score to 75-71. From there, Buford was able to ice the game with three foul shots from Simonds and a pair from Lubin.

Tobin finished with 29 points to lead Cartersville, while Davis finished the night with 27 points.

The majority of Lubin’s offensive production came in the first half. The University of Connecticut commit scored 18 of his 31 points in the opening two quarters before he was pulled in the closing minutes of the second quarter due to foul trouble.

“That kid is a beast,” Whitehart said, of Lubin. “He is so poised. He is one of our leaders.”

 

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