It’s not exactly just across the picket fence — but close enough.
Despite the nine miles of separation between neighboring Flowery Branch and Buford, Friday night’s game gave fans a glimpse into the future — neighboring rivals with endless potential of great games for years to come.
And for this first-ever meeting in region play, the top-ranked Lady Falcons were the ones to feel the effects of the big-stage atmosphere. It just took one quarter to make that clear in a 53-44 loss.
The Falcons outscored the visiting No. 2 Lady Wolves 27-23 in the second half, but it was the second quarter that doomed them.
The Lady Wolves recovered from a poor shooting effort in the opening quarter (5 of 15) after only carrying a one-point lead into the second. The Buford offense exploded with a 17-point surge — including a 15-2 edge in a five-minute span — while holding the Lady Falcons to a pair of field goals in that eight-minute stretch.
The Lady Wolves also generated six steals in the closing minutes as well, two from Pamela Johnson.
“We just had lapses,” Flowery Branch coach Courtney Gonzalez said. “You just can’t take a quarter off, and we did. We couldn’t get back.”
Taniyah Worth accounted for all offensive output and attacked the boards during a sluggish second period. Worth’s two buckets inside the paint and a free throw were hard earned, a reflection of Buford’s opportunistic and suffocating press.
“We handled (Buford’s press) very well in the first quarter. We handled it well at the end of the game. It’s just, again, when you take a whole quarter off, eight minutes of basketball, and you just give it to them, at this level or at any level you just can’t do it.”
Buford girls coach Gene Durden felt their defense and depth contributed to that big shifty in momentum. But a failure to finish in the paint and match the Falcons’ intensity on the boards had the veteran coach pacing up and down the sideline in the opening quarter.
“Our depth is one of our bigger factors more than everything else, and I think it played a role in it tonight,” Durden said. “I was just disappointed because, if we hit our layups and the things that we worked for because our game plan, we did what we wanted to do.
“We just gotta make sure we finish shots.”
The Falcons' elevated their play in the second half still wasn’t enough, despite the combined scoring efforts of leading scorer Queen Scott (16 points) and Worth (14 points). Scott, coupled with a long trey by Lexie Sengkhammee (6 points), scored six of the Falcons’ 13 points in the third period.
Worth added a big block just before the third quarter buzzer to keep their deficit at 12.
The Wolves got much-needed production from returning Class AAAA Player of the Year Tory Ozment in the final minutes to keep the Falcons out of reach. She scored seven points in a 9-2 run, include a 3-point play completed at the free throw line that had the entire bench spring out of their seats at the 5:56 mark.
Ozment was the lone Lady Wolves to score in the double figures with 18 points, while Zikaya Wright finished with eight.
“Defensively, we have to get better. This won’t break us easily. We’re gonna come out with our heads up and realize we gotta get back to work. If you want to win big games, you gotta play a whole 32 minutes,” Gonzalez said.
Flowery Branch (9-2, 3-1) faces Johnson next on the docket to open the Lanierland tournament on Dec. 28. Buford (6-0, 3-0) plays Duluth for a non-region matchup 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
BUFORD BOYS 66, FLOWERY BRANCH BOYS 54: It was never in doubt for the top-ranked Wolves (8-0, 3-0 Region 8-AAAAA), even after watching the Falcons climb within six in the closing minutes on Friday night.
Three starters amassed double figures for Buford, with Alex Jones notching 18 points, followed by David Viti with 14 and Donnell Nixon with 10.
Flowery Branch’s (7-2, 2-2) leading scorer Brannon Clark racked up 13 of his 17 points in the second half to keep things interesting. He knocked down back-to-back baskets, a 3-pointer from the top of the arc at the 1:09 mark and then a layup less than 30 seconds later to bring the Falcons within 10 before the end of the third period. Clark’s breakout effort ended suddenly after landing hard on his final attempt inside the paint during the fourth quarter.
Otherwise, the shots just couldn’t fall for the Falcons when they needed them the most. John Mills (10 points) was the only other Falcons player to reach double digits.
“We’re a great shooting team, got great looks, but couldn’t put them down,” said Flowery Branch coach David Sokol.
“But our guys battled. That’s one thing that you can never fault them on. It’s gonna be there every night. We just gotta work on some little things, details and we’ll be fine.”