Buford’s guard A.J. Davis’ athleticism was the difference in the third matchup of the season between the Wolves and North Hall, leading the Buford to the Region 7-AAA title in a 50-36 victory over the Trojans on Saturday night in Gainesville.
It was a two-point contest as the teams started the third quarter, but a 12-2 run over the first six minutes of the second half put the Wolves (23-6) out of reach for North Hall (25-3). After scoring on the previous possession, Davis stole the ball and threw up an alley-oop to Kyle Doyle, giving the Wolves an 11-point lead at the 2:35 mark in the third quarter and forcing a Trojan timeout.
“We are happy to come into a place like this and put ourselves in a good position for state,” Davis said. “It doesn’t get any tougher than to come here where all of the schools (in the region) are cheering against you.”
The 6-foot-8 Davis led all scorers with 18 points, while altering and stealing passes on defense and pulling down rebounds.
“Since our first team meetings, I have stressed to the team the idea of shared sacrifice,” Buford coach Allen Whitehart said. “No one is the ‘go-to’ player on this team. Tonight was A.J. (Davis)’s night, but others have to sacrifice in order to make that happen.”
The first half of the game featured back-and-forth lead changes between evenly matched teams. Neither team led by more than four points, and the Trojans largest lead of the game came during the first five minutes of gametime at 6-2.
The second half was a different story as the Wolves implemented a trick they had stored away all season, only to use it when they needed it most.
Whitehart exchanged his team’s 2-3 zone defense for a different look at the beginning of the second half, and the adjustment led to the Wolves allowing only nine points after the half. Buford was able to tally 32 points of their own by way of fast-break opportunities, which were brought about by the stingy defense.
The Wolves provided a barrage of dunks, alley-oops and rebounds, showcasing their size over North Hall.
However, the Wolves were unable to sink a 3-pointer or free throw all night long, going 0-3 and 0-7, respectively.
“I have to give credit to a friend of mine, David Boyd, who watched some of our game film and gave me the idea of running a 1-3-1 zone on defense,” Whitehart said. “With our length, it is something we keep in our back pocket.”
At the center of the Wolves’ second half defensive scheme was Davis, who applied pressure to any ball handler who attempted to come to the middle of the court.
“We planned for it (the defensive change),” Davis said. “We work on a lot of different things during practice and use whatever we need to use to get the win.”
Doyle ended the night with 12 points, while Coby Durden scored 10 points for Buford.
“The team struggled at the beginning of the year with sacrificing, but now we are doing whatever it takes.” Davis said. “Points don’t matter. We are just happy to go out there and win games.”
Whitehart knows being battle-tested within the region will only help his team on their quest for a state title.
“I can tell you this, I am glad to be away from North Hall,” he said. “Our guys came out motivated to win, and (North Hall) is well coached.”
Davis echoed his praise for North Hall’s team, “They are a great team. They beat us last week at our place. We just wanted to come out and put ourselves in the best position for state.”
North Hall had three scorers the entire game, led by Ebo Smith’s 16 points and Adam Kelly’s 13.
Buford will host the No. 4 seed from Region 6-AAA next week in the state playoffs, while North Hall will host the region’s No. 3 seed.
BUFORD GIRLS 60, DAWSON COUNTY 52: Early, the Lady Wolves appeared as if they would cruise to an easy victory, but the Lady Tigers were not ready to give away the shot at a region championship.
Buford put together a 15-4 run, which spanned the end of the first and beginning of the second quarters. Dawson County rebutted with a 10-4 run of their own to cut the Lady Wolves lead to three heading into halftime.
After a strong third quarter, the Lady Tigers had chipped away to tie Buford, but after an errant shot from the Lady Wolves, Buford’s Kristina Nelson collected the rebound and hit a jump shot as time expired to put them up 39-37 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Nelson started the fourth quarter the same way that she ended the third, as she scored the team’s first five points in the final quarter, totaling seven consecutive points. She ended the game as the leading scorer with 20 points.
“Kristina played well and we handled their collapsing defense well,” Buford coach Gene Durden said. “We are still learning to play and having to play this tournament helped us get ready for the next step.”
Buford’s Camille Anderson scored 14 points on the night, and Maya Dillard chipped in 10 points.
“There are three things which all good playoff teams do: rebound, play half-court offense, and play half-court defense,” Durden said. “We are still inconsistent but getting better at learning the value of each possession.”
Dawson County’s Hanna Porter connected on five three-pointers to lead the Lady Tigers in scoring at 15, and teammate Karlie Bowden added three treys of her own. Bowden finished with 10 points, while Carly Gilreath added 13 points.
The Lady Wolves converted 4 of 5 free throw attempts in the final minute to hold off the Lady Tigers on their way to the Region 7-AAA Championship.