MILLEDGEVILLE – Green and gold will be well represented in the Class AAA basketball state championship games this season.
Buford’s boys and girls basketball teams both secured their spots in Macon next week with a pair of semifinal wins on Saturday at Georgia College and State University’s Centennial Center.
The Wolves opened the day with a 92-76 win over Callaway for their first trip to the title game since 2011, and Lady Wolves followed it up with a 63-46 victory over Pike County to reach the championship for the fourth time in five seasons.
Both teams will play in the finals next Saturday at Macon Centreplex.
BUFORD BOYS 92, CALLAWAY 76: Led by dominant performances from Rakim Lubin and D’Marcus Simonds, the Wolves punched their ticket to the state championship game with the win over the Cavaliers.
Lubin scored a season-high 37 points with 12 rebounds and four blocks, while Simonds provided 30 points with 13 rebounds and three blocks.
The two Buford (27-5) standouts have spent most of the season exchanging big games. They picked the biggest stage of the year to enjoy breakout games at the same time.
It showed on the scoreboard, as the Wolves notched their second-highest scoring game of the season and won their 23rd straight contest.
“You never know who’s going to step up between those two,” Wolves coach Allen Whitehart said. “On days like today, I felt like they did on the same night. The other kids follow their lead.”
Buford faces Morgan County for the state title. The two teams met twice during the regular season, each winning once.
Lubin was at his best in the fourth quarter, when he scored 19 points, including the Wolves’ first 13 points of the period.
The University of Connecticut commit was crucial to the Wolves keeping an advantage over a Callaway team that improved drastically from the first half to the second, turning a 16-point halftime deficit into a single-digit margin in the third quarter and again in the fourth.
The Cavaliers cut Buford’s lead to just nine with 4:35 left in the game, but Lubin kept churning out baskets. He helped spark a 9-0 run that put the Wolves back ahead 82-64, crushing Callaway’s chance to complete the rally.
“It was just us sticking together as a team,” Lubin said. “For me it was just playing as a team and not trying to take over or anything.
“It was kind of scary. They were a good team. They liked to run and they liked to play that type of game in the end. It didn’t feel too good – it felt like we needed to pull out the win.”
The Cavaliers hit five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get closer than nine, as Lubin continued to attack the basket and sink free throws.
“I was just screaming in the fourth quarter, ‘let the big fella eat,’” Whitehart said of his 6-foot-8 center. “’Keep feeding him and feeding him, there’s no answer for him.’”
Meanwhile, Simonds was a key element in holding off Callaway during its earlier surge in the third quarter.
The Cavaliers managed to get within eight of Buford, 49-41, before the sophomore guard rattled off eight points during a 13-4 run that put the Wolves back ahead 62-45, eventually giving them a 14-point advantage heading into the final quarter. “When they got it close, somebody would answer,” Whitehart said. “Most of the time it was Rakim or D’Marcus.”
Buford controlled the opening stages of the game, jumping out to an 11-2 lead early in the first quarter. Lubin scored eight of his 11 first-half points in the period as the Wolves took a 17-8 advantage into the second quarter.
Led by Simonds, Buford continued to pour it on. He hit a pair of free throws and hit his second of three first-half 3-pointers to spark a 10-0 Wolves run to open the second.
Callaway didn’t score in the quarter until the 4:17 mark. By then, Buford was up 27-8 and in full control of both ends of the court.
Simonds ignited another Wolves surge with a 3-pointer and a basket, helping his team move ahead 34-11.
Callaway closed out the first half with a quick 10-0 run in the closing minutes of the first halftime, cutting Buford’s halftime to lead to 16 at halftime.
The Wolves outrebounded Callaway 22-15 in the first half and 40-30 overall.
“They’re loose – that’s a good sign,” Whitehart said. “I think that plays into it a little bit. I think they feed from Rakim and D’Marcus, and react to the situations. Everybody follows their lead, especially in the first quarter. They came out really well, and I think that separated the game.”
BUFORD GIRLS 63, PIKE COUNTY 46: Camille Anderson scored 20 points and Bree Horrocks notched a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds and the Lady Wolves added another state finals berth to their resume with Saturday’s victory.
Aside from a brief tie late in the first quarter, Buford (30-2) led for the entire game, cruising to another trip to Macon.
It’s a familiar place for the Lady Wolves, who reached the state championship game four straight years from 2008-2012. They came back with titles three times in a row.
Buford faces the Beach/St. Pius X winner in the title game, hoping to put last season’s quarterfinal exit in the distance.
“We feel this is just an incredible journey,” Lady Wolves coach Gene Durden said. “To lose so much from last year’s team, and for these kids to wait their turn, and to be where we are, we’re just blessed. We’re just so excited.”
Buford, winners of 12 straight, get a week to rest before Saturday’s finals after playing three state playoff games in a seven-day span.
Durden isn’t completely sure he wants to wait that long for his team’s most important game of the season.
“I really feel torn about that. The first state championship that I ever played in at Dade County, we were playing so great and then we had to wait a week. When we came back, we were very, very rusty.
“I’m worried about the wait, but I’m also liking the time to get our legs back under us and get our game plan. We’ll see how it turns out this time.”
Buford led 36-19 at halftime Saturday, using a 19-4 second quarter to turn a close game early into a one-sided affair in favor of the Lady Wolves.
They took a comfortable 48-31 lead into the fourth quarter, and made 11 free throws thereafter to secure the win.
“Our kids have been playing so well together, as a unit,” Durden said. “You never know which kid is going to step up each night. But the great thing is that they all play great defense and they all play together.”