SAVANNAH — Buford hung in until the end, rallying from down 13 and responding to each Savannah High streak to keep it tight.
But the Wolves couldn’t get all the way back, falling 54-50 in the state semifinals Saturday at Armstrong State University.
Savannah (28-3) will play Region 1-AAA opponent Johnson-Savannah in the state finals Saturday. Buford’s season is complete at 25-7.
For the Wolves, who last reached the state finals in 2011 in Class AA, it was the end of a season of recovery. Buford basketball player Adam Smith died in September after collapsing during conditioning work with the basketball team.
“The fact that we are where we are is a big part of the picture,” Buford coach Allen Whitehart said. “This isn’t what we were playing for. We were playing for a young man who was playing for (us) until the fall.
“We were playing for something bigger than us, and I think that showed in the last few minutes.”
Down 52-44 with 2:50 remaining, Buford rallied with back-to-back baskets by Kyle Doyle and Brad Mapes to get within four points with 2:12 remaining, at which point each team made one more baskets before the close of the game.
“We did have some looks at it,” Whitehart said. “But not all the shots are going to fall.”
Buford senior A.J. Davis led all scorers with 21 points, Kyle Doyle added 13 and Isaiah Williams 10 for the Wolves.
Buford last led at 17-15 in the second quarter after a Williams 3-pointer, but tied it twice before halftime and came within two early in the fourth. But the Wolves couldn’t stop Savannah’s runs, the last of which, midway through the fourth, put the Blue Jackets ahead by eight after Doyle had cut the lead to two, at 44-42, with 6:03 remaining in the game.
Jamal Norman led Savannah with 16 points, 12 in the first half, Jovante Spivey added 14 and Jason Lawton 10.
Whitehart said the atmosphere of the game, played in the same city where the opponents’ high school is located, made it a little different than a normal state semifinal.
“It was without a doubt a physical road game,” he said.
As has happened throughout the state tournament, the referees were more likely to let the players play, making Saturday’s game a tough contest.
The first quarter started with a Buford run, as Davis scored the games first six points and Buford eventually led 8-2 midway through the quarter. It ended with a Savannah run, as the Blue Jackets scored 10 straight to take a 12-8 lead, settling for 12-10 lead after one.
Isiaiah Williams hit two 3-pointers in the second to keep Buford in it, while Norman scored eight in the quarter, including the final two baskets of the second, to put Savannah ahead 26-22 at the half.
Norman finished the half with 12 points to lead the Blue Jackets; Davis paced Buford in the first half with 10 points.
After four straight points by Buford to open the third quarter, Savannah scored 12 straight to take its biggest lead of the night. Doyle and Davis brought the Wolves back wo within six at 42-36 at the end of the third.
Savannah is in the state finals for the second consecutive season. The Blue Jackets were in the Class AAAAA state finals last season, falling to Milton. With region realignment, they moved down to the classification that fits their enrollment.