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Buford boys advance to Class AA state final
Wolves defeat Laney in semifinals
Buford Wolves post T.J. Shipes (15) gets the dunk over Laney Wildcats defender Shaquille Cook (4) on Thursday in Macon in the Class AA semifinals. - photo by ROBERT SNOW | For The Times

MACON - Senior Zac Lynn never stopped believing in Buford's basketball program. After enduring three consecutive losing seasons, he knew the talent was in place to achieve greatness.

Now, they're one win away from earning a state title.

"We're so excited; we've worked so hard for this all season long," Lynn said. "This is just a dream come true.

Lynn scored the first eight points in an early second-half 10-0 run for Buford, giving it enough cushion to hold off a late Laney rally for a 63-59 Wolves victory in the Class AA state semifinals on Thursday at the Macon Centreplex.

With the win, the Wolves (24-8) will face Greater Atlanta Christian at 4:45 p.m. Saturday in Macon for the state championship.

Buford boys are trying to win the first state championship in the program's history.

"Our kids have worked so hard all season," Buford coach Allen Whitehart said. "We pushed them, and pushed them and pushed them all season and they showed they could handle it."

Lynn finished with 15 points, eight in the third quarter run to take the lead, but also added a crucial defensive rebound, drawing an immediate foul and sent Alex Flagler to the free throw line with the Wolves leading 59-57 in the final minute in the game. After Wolves senior forward Jake Burnette (13 points, seven of nine on FTs) was fouled immediately after stealing the ball on a Laney inbound pass with 11 seconds to go, he proceeded to make both shots to secure the victory. It brought an end to a rough second half shooting free throws (10 of 16 in the fourth quarter) for the Wolves.

"He's the guy I wanted at the free throw line," Whitehart said. "He's got ice water in his veins."

"As soon as he got fouled, I knew he'd make both the shots," Lynn said.

According to Whitehart, the key to getting back in the game in the second half was putting a stop to Laney's advantage with speed off the dribble. The Wildcats built their biggest lead in the game with a 7-0 run midway through the second quarter, including a powerful one-handed dunk by Rod Hall (26 points).

And Laney held Buford to only eight shots in the second quarter.

However, the game changed quickly in the third quarter as Lynn went to work. He started with a 3-pointer to cut Laney's lead to 33-27. After another basket inside, he came away with a defensive steal and finished it off with a 3-point play to get the score to 33-32 Laney.

Laney's six third-quarter turnovers also played a factor in the huge shift in momentum.

"I was just looking to do whatever it took to get us back in the game," Lynn said. "We weren't going out like that as hard as we've worked this season.

"We were willing to do whatever it took to get to the title game."

Buford took its first second-half lead at 34-33 as T.J. Shipes, who finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, used his size inside and went up and over two Laney defenders for a layup. He also added a pair of slam dunks in the fourth quarter to keep Laney at bay.

However, the tide turned drastically in Laney's favor late in the fourth as Robert Turner (11 points) scored off a turnover to cut the deficit to seven points.

Trailing 57-50 with 3:50 remaining in the game, Laney made a game out of it by creating a number of turnovers and the inside presence of power forward Raven Rodriquez. After a basket to cut the Wolves lead to five, he came away with a steal and made a free throw to narrow Buford's lead to 58-56. The next time Rodriguez got the ball inside, he drew another foul and made another free throw, cutting Buford's lead to 59-57 with 40 seconds left in the game.

Buford had several heroes over the course of the game. Shipes scored six points early in the second quarter for the Wolves to tie the score at 18 with 5:18 remaining in the opening half.

Kyle Kellam (nine points) broke a 39-39 tie with two minutes remaining in the third quarter with a layup, followed by Shipes' basket to give the Wolves a 45-39 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The Wolves shot their best early in the game by making three of their first five shots. Alex Flagler had a 3-pointer for Buford to build a 7-4 lead early in the first period.

Whitehart said part of Laney's adjustment early in the game was to try and keep a defender on Flagler.

"We did a good job adjusting to that coming out of halftime," Whitehart said. "We knew we had to play better or our season would be over."

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