Buford’s A.J. Davis didn’t see any point in worrying with a lead that was dwindling quickly at North Hall on Tuesday. He knew all along that a huge size advantage could play to the Wolves’ advantage when it came down to the wire.
And with less than a minute left to play Davis, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, put in what proved to be the deciding shot. After three failed attempts under the basket by Buford, Davis came up with the ball and connected on a basket over the head of two defenders that halted the Trojans’ feverish rally and secured a 52-45 victory. For the Wolves, Davis finished with a game-high 23 points, while the 6-7 Kyle Doyle added 13.
“This win was huge,” Buford coach Allen Whitehart said. “We talk about setting the table in the region.
“In a region with North Hall, East Hall and Dawson County, any breathing room you can have is huge.”
With the win, Buford (11-5, 8-0 Region 7-AAA) takes sole possession of first place in the region with its seventh consecutive win, while North Hall (14-2, 7-1) saw an 11-game winning streak come to an end. Now, the Wolves have built that breathing room in the region with a pair of wins against East Hall, and won the first against both North Hall and Dawson County.
Buford will host North Hall to wrap up the regular season Feb. 8. It’s also possible that the two highly-talented programs could meet in the Region 7-AAA tournament, which has its semifinals and championship game at North Hall.
The first meeting between the two favorites to win the region crown was back and forth for most of the night.
Buford, with a 26-13 rebounding advantage, used its size inside for second and third shot attempts all night. North Hall coach Benjie Wood said six of Buford’s players are bigger than his tallest starter.
“I feel like the game went our way for most of the night,” Davis said. “We knew North Hall was going to make shots, we just had to be patient and avoid mistakes like gambling on defense.”
Still, the Trojans made it interesting late in the fourth quarter. Trailing 48-39 with only 2:30 left to play, senior Ebo Smith and Brock Wingo both knocked down long 3-pointers to cut the deficit down to just three points.
“Let’s be honest, when you’re playing against a team as tall as Buford, you’re going to have to make some of those shots,” Wood said. “It’s like a forest out there.”
“Hitting a 25-foot shot with a hand in your face is something you can’t simulate in practice,” Whitehart added.
North Hall had at least one long-range 3-pointer in each quarter of the game, which Whitehart said is one of the strengths the Trojans bring to the table.
“I scouted North Hall and watched them play in person getting ready for this game,” Whitehart said. “They are a well-coached, fundamentally-strong program.
“I watched film of them all week getting ready for this one.”
Despite losing, North Hall jumped to its biggest lead of the night with Avery Cagle’s early 3-pointer to make the score 16-10 with only seconds left in the first quarter. Then early in the second quarter, the two teams went back and forth making long range shots.
Griffin Olson (20 points) hit a 3-pointer to give North Hall a 22-18 lead early in the period, but Davis followed immediately with a long-range shot to knock the Trojans lead down to just one.
With Davis on the bench with two fouls late in the first half, Doyle provided a couple of key baskets, one a 3-pointer, to put the Wolves up 28-25 for halftime.
Then early in the third quarter, North Hall managed to wipe out a five-point Buford lead. Olson hit a long 3-pointer, followed by his own underhanded scoop shot to tie it back up at 32-all. Wood was very proud of the way his program all night answered shots and found a way to score, despite Buford’s huge size advantage.
“Our guys are full of heart,” Wood said. “I couldn’t be any more proud of the way they played.”
On Friday, North Hall plays host to Banks County at 8:30 p.m.; Buford plays in the Flying to the Hoop Tournament at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Xenia, Ohio.
BUFORD GIRLS 59, NORTH HALL 25: Senior Kaela Davis poured in a game-high 15 points and all three 3-pointers for the Lady Wolves (12-3, 8-0 Region 7-AAA). Bree Horrocks was second on the team with 11 points.
Buford had seven different scorers in the opening half.
After falling behind 3-2 early, the Lady Wolves went on a 32-0 scoring run. Buford led 39-10 at halftime.
Jordan Nix led North Hall (9-7, 3-4) with nine points.
North Hall hosts Banks County at 7 p.m. Friday; Buford faces St. Francis at 2 p.m. Saturday at Starr’s Mill High in Fayetteville.