DAWSONVILLE — Buford coach Allen Whitehart said after the game that his team had played their kind of basketball — Dawson County basketball — slow, methodical and low-scoring.
It’s that kind of basketball that has already led to upsets of Region 8-AA tournament top seeds East Hall and Jefferson.
Add last season’s state championship runners-up to the list.
In front of a packed crowd in excess of 1,600, the Tigers continued one of the best seasons in program history with a 42-35 win over Buford on Wednesday in Dawsonville, punching their ticket to the quarterfinals in Dalton.
The ninth-ranked Tigers (25-6) will play Region 5-AA No. 2 Jordan at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the state quarterfinals at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton.
“We’re just on a roll,” said Dawson County forward Bruce Clark. “I don’t see anybody that we’re scared of now.”
As long as they continue to get teams to keep the scoring down, the Tigers are confident no matter who's wearing the opposing jerseys.
“We said if we could keep the score low then we can come back and have a chance to win at the end,” said Dawson County junior Tyler Dominy, who led all scorers with 15 points. “We believed the whole time.”
Dominy had four points in the final quarter, including a shot with under 1:30 in the game to give Dawson County all the lead they would need at 37-33. Gunnar Armstrong (14 points) had hit a 3-pointer, his fourth of the game, to put the Tigers ahead for good at 35-33 with just under three minutes remaining.
“I thought Dominy took over late like a big-time player,” Tigers coach Thad Burgess said.
Although the game would go down to the wire, it was the junior’s shot to end the third quarter that put the momentum firmly on the Dawson County side, not to mention bring the roaring crowd to its feet.
It started with Buford (22-8) holding on to the ball for a last shot — with over four minutes remaining in the quarter.
“That got us a chance to catch our wind,” said Burgess, who plays his five starters nearly the entire game. “And that shot at the buzzer really got us going.”
The Tigers had a shot when Will Anglin swiped the ball from Buford guard A.J. Davis (12 points) when the Wolves’ junior finally drove toward the basket with just over 10 seconds left.
Anglin streaked down the court and fired a pass to Dominy, who sank a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to even the score at 28 heading to the final quarter.
“We were going to take the last shot,” Whitehart said of the quarter’s final play. “(Dominy’s) a good basketball player, he can play.
“They’ve got a good team, and they’re well coached.”
The Wolves’ coach, who said he felt bad for the seniors but that the loss could be a learning experience for the underclassmen, said his kids seemed a little agitated by the unique matchup zone defense that Dawson County employs.
Burgess could see it too.
“I knew that they were going to be frustrated, because they like to run,” the Tigers coach said. “The matchup zone was the best I’ve ever seen them play.”
Whitehart said it wasn’t just the defense that led to the loss, but the atmosphere.
“That’s a great advantage they have,” said Whitehart, who had seen Dawson County play Saturday. “I told the players that it’s a crazy atmosphere and they’re going to feed off it. And they did.”
Burgess cited the fan support as well.
“I thought that this was a win for our community,” he said. “It was so nice to see our community here and that we’re a part of something.”
The fans were engaged throughout the game, and Dawson County never gave them a chance to rest.
Armstrong hit three 3-pointers for Dawson County to lead all scorers with nine points at the end of the first half, although eight points apiece from Shipes and A.J. Davis (12 points) put Buford ahead 20-16 at the break.
After Armstrong’s third three of the half put the hosts ahead 16-14 late in the second quarter, Davis drove into the lane for a layup to tie and then made a pair of free throws to put the Wolves ahead by two.
Brad Mapes finished the half with a two-handed dunk for Buford to go ahead 20-16 with less than a minute remaining.
Buford was up by as many as eight earlier in the third, at which point Burgess said he thought his team was nearly out of it, but Dawson County hung on, capped by Dominy’s three to even the score headed to the fourth.