Immediately following the Buford High girls basketball team’s blowout win against Flowery Branch in their last meeting, coach Gene Durden made two assumptions.
First, he had a feeling the teams would meet again in the Region 8-5A tournament, likely in the championship game. And given the nature of the rivalry and consistently close clashes between two of Class 5A’s best squads, Durden reasoned another lopsided victory would be difficult to come by.
He was right on both counts when the Lady Wolves and Lady Falcons faced off for the region title Saturday, but once again, Buford found the extra gear to pull away for a win.
The top-seeded Lady Wolves created cushion with a big third quarter and survived a late Flowery Branch rally to claim their second straight region championship with a 49-41 win at Johnson High in Oakwood.
“I know it’s always going to be a tight game with the rivalry and that (Flowery Branch) will bring their best,” Durden said. “I told our girls to not pay attention to the last game and just put it in the past.”
Senior guard Tory Ozment, who led Buford (24-3) with 21 points, said a return to the finer details in practice prevented the defending Class 5A champs from dwelling too much on their 31-point win against the Lady Falcons (22-6) on Jan. 23.
The result: another region championship and No. 1 seed for the state playoffs, which begin Friday.
“It’s such a good feeling,” the Michigan State signee said. “Coming off last year, we weren’t complacent and we never stopped working hard. We took it as motivation. We knew we’d be a target for everybody in Class 5A this year. It fuels the fire, honestly.”
Yet No. 2 seed Flowery Branch nearly dethroned the reigning region champions, trailing by just two points at halftime and weathering what appeared to be a knockout blow in the third quarter.
Taniyah Worth recorded nine of her game-high 22 points as the Lady Falcons mounted a comeback in the final period, but they ultimately finished with a No. 2 seed and corresponding first-round home game in the state playoffs.
Flowery Branch made its first-ever state semifinal appearance as a No. 2 seed last season.
Ozment scored the first nine points for Buford and Worth had the first seven for the Lady Falcons, though the latter picked up her second foul with 3:22 left in the opening quarter.
Buford built a 19-9 lead early in the second quarter before Worth orchestrated a Flowery Branch surge. She scored four points and assisted on three of the other four baskets before halftime, which the Lady Falcons entered down just 25-23.
But Durden made a tactical gamble at the break, discarding his usual full-court press that forced 11 first-half turnovers in favor of a half-court defense.
The Lady Wolves, who Durden said gave up too many easy baskets once their press was broken, responded by allowing just three points in the third quarter.
“It really helped us execute our offense and decreased their scoring,” Ozment said. “We can’t always rely on the press, and it helped us win the game.”
The defensive adjustment resulted in a 13-3 run and 14-point, fourth-quarter lead before Flowery Branch made one last push. Worth knocked down a couple clutch baskets to trim the Lady Falcons’ deficit to six points with about a minute to play.
Buford went just 5 of 10 from the free-throw line over the final few minutes, but sophomore Tate Walters (14 points) sank a key pair to make sure her team prevailed in a rematch of last year’s region championship game.
Freshman forward Ashlee Locke came up just short of a double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds for Flowery Branch, which missed 10 free throws of its own.
“The great thing about a tight game like this is it prepares us for the state playoffs,” Durden said. “I’m just happy that we came out on top in the end.”
BUFORD BOYS 79, CLARKE CENTRAL 75: Junior forward Marcus Watson led all scorers with 23 points Saturday in Oakwood as the top-seeded Wolves clinched the Region 8-5A championship, their third straight region title.
Donell Nixon (14 points), also a junior, hit two free throws to seal the victory with about five seconds to play. Seniors Alex Jones and David Viti had 15 and 11 points, respectively, as Buford (23-4) secured a No. 1 state playoff seed.
The No. 2 seed Gladiators (22-6) chipped away at their deficit, ultimately tying the game at 56 heading into the fourth quarter and taking a one-point led with 4:30 to play thanks to a 7-0 run. Senior center Quamontae Monfort finished with 20 points for Clarke Central, which received 11 from Jaron Washington-Thomas and 10 from Mijah Campbell, both seniors.
FLOWERY BRANCH BOYS 54, CEDAR SHOALS 47: Justin Quick drew an offensive foul, snagged a key defensive rebound and hit all four of his free throws in the final 25 seconds of the Region 8-5A tournament third-place game Saturday in Oakwood.
His game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds didn’t hurt, either.
Fourth-seeded Flowery Branch went on a 12-3 run over the game’s final 2:33 to claim a No. 3 seed for the state playoffs, which it will begin on the road. Senior Myles Janess notched 11 points and classmate Blake Coxworth added seven for the Falcons (17-11), who took the lead late on a 3-pointer from senior Joey Nidoy (eight points).
Sophomore forward Quincy Canty paced third-seeded Cedar Shoals (10-17) with 16 points, while senior guard Jaivanni McDavid scored 11. Sophomores Demetrius Glenn and Tyler Johnson had 10 points apiece for the Jaguars.