MACON — Earlier in the week, Buford senior Rakim Lubin went on record saying if the Buford Wolves could stop Morgan County senior Tookie Brown, the Wolves would win a state championship.
Unfortunately for the Wolves, Brown saved one of his best performances for Saturday’s Class AAA state championship game at the Macon Centreplex.
Committed to Mississippi State, Brown scored a game-high 36 points and guided Morgan County to a 69-45 rout of Buford, earning the school’s first-ever basketball state title.
“What (Lubin) said, I just took it as motivation,” Brown said. “I told my team, ‘I’m not the only person they have to stop. It’s a whole team.’”
It was a championship game effort that earned Brown a standing ovation by the Morgan County fans when he was pulled out of the game in the closing minutes of the Bulldogs’ victory.
“(Brown) played phenomenal,” Buford coach Allen Whitehart said. “Kudos to them and him, they played a great game.”
The loss for Buford was the school’s second defeat in a state championship game in the past three seasons. The Wolves also fell short in the Class AA title game in 2012.
In the third meeting between the two teams this season — they split a pair of regular season contests — Morgan County was simply the better team Saturday, ending Buford’s 21-game winning streak.
Playing in front of a crowd made up heavily of Morgan County fans, the Wolves fell behind early and were never able to catch up.
The Bulldogs opened the game on a 13-2 run thanks to a fast break offense, coupled with a tough defensive pressure that forced 10 Buford turnovers in the first quarter and held Region 7-AAA Player of the Year D’Marcus Simonds without a point in the opening eight minutes.
During the run, the Bulldogs gave their fans plenty to cheer about, providing them with rim-rattling dunks, alley-oops and 3-pointers.
“I felt like we never got comfortable early,” Whitehart said. “And then you don’t have the opportunity to get comfortable early when you’re behind. Once they got that cushion, they were really able to dictate the game.
“I felt like we were fine in the early moments of the game and (Morgan County) had a put-back dunk and I felt like our kids freaked a little bit.”
Led by Brown, who scored 24 points in the first half, Morgan County was able to build a 20-5 lead at the end of the first quarter before stretching it to 37-18 at halftime.
By that point, the Buford bench looked deflated, and Morgan County looked poised to claim its first-ever state title.
The Bulldogs continued to pile it on in the second half, with Brown leading Morgan County into the fourth quarter with a 52-27 lead. Brown himself was able to outscore Buford through the first three quarters, as the senior scored 32 points.
“We just never got into a rhythm and settled into how we play,” Whitehart said. “I just think that was the deciding factor at the end of the day.”
After a dominating postseason, which included a pair of 30-point performances in the state quarterfinals and state semifinals, Lubin was a non-factor down low for the Wolves, thanks to a suffocating defense by Morgan County center and Tennessee signee C.J. Turman.
Turman’s physical play made it difficult for Lubin and Buford to find offensive production down low,
forcing the Wolves to shoot many shots from the perimeter.
They finished the day 6 of 18 from 3-point range and totaled just 18 points in the paint, compared to Morgan County’s 44 points.
Lubin was the only Buford player to score in double figures, as the senior finished with 12 points. Turman finished with 15 points for Morgan County.
Buford led just once in the game, coming at the 6:10 mark of the first quarter off a Keyton Gibson layup that made the score 2-1. From there, Morgan County outscored Buford 19-3 to close out the first quarter.