DALTON — With his team trailing by a point and the season hanging in the balance, Alex Flagler stared down his defender, took one glance at the basket and launched a long 3-pointer with 6.2 seconds left.
“I knew we weren’t going to get anything, so I knew I had to take a shot,” Flagler said. “We needed a basket and there was no one else I wanted to take that shot.”
Flagler’s 3 found nothing but net and gave the Wolves a 47-44 win over South Atlanta on Friday during the Class AA quarterfinals at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton.
The win clinches the Wolves’ first trip to Macon since 2006; quite an accomplishment for a team that went 9-16 last season. Buford plays the winner of the Laney/Lamar County game at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Macon Centreplex.
“I never would have thought this would have happened in a million years,” said Buford coach Allen Whitehead, who squatted down and put his hands in his head following a steal and foul that clinched the win. “I didn’t know if these kids would buy into my system, but they never quit.
“They want to win at all costs,” he added. “They’re hungry.”
That was evident Friday against South Atlanta (28-3), a team that beat Buford (23-8) twice during the regular season.
The Wolves knew they had to keep the tempo at their pace, and although they did that in the first half, they struggled offensively, scoring just 16 points on 7 of 26 shooting.
“It was tough shooting in here; there’s no walls behind the basket,” said Flagler, who finished with 15 points. “You don’t know where the goal is.”
That wasn’t the case in the second half, as Buford senior Zac Lynn opened the third quarter by making three straight 3s that gave the Wolves a 25-22 lead.
“Those 3s were huge,” Whiteheart said of Lynn, who scored 11 points. “He’s been in a slump, so that made them even bigger.”
Lynn’s 3-pointers sparked the Wolves, who scored 22 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) in the third quarter. Six of those points came off dunks by T.J. Shipes, who finished with 10 points.
A Flagler 3-pointer with 7:23 left to play gave Buford its largest lead of the game at 41-31, but South Atlanta answered with a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to one point.
The Hornets took a 44-43 lead on a Rashuad Bell jump hook in lane with under a minute to play. That was the Hornets first lead since late in the first half.
Like their previous lead, their lead late didn’t last long, as Flagler calmly walked the ball down the court and made a shot that will likely go down in school history.