BUFORD — With its season on the line, Buford had to turn some negatives into positives just to stay alive.
That meant shrugging off early shooting woes. Then a rare halftime deficit. Then a technical foul that tied the game midway through the fourth quarter.
But every time the Lady Wolves encountered adversity during Monday’s Class AAA second-round state playoff matchup with Decatur, they seemed to wiggle their way out of it with little harm.
The end result was a 41-28 win over the Lady Bulldogs and their eighth straight trip to the third round of the playoffs.
“One of our old players’ dad was on the sideline, and told us not to let the seniors go out like this,” Buford junior guard Camille Anderson said. “That could’ve been our last game ever. Every play we went out there thinking, ‘this is one and done.’”
Anderson scored a team-high 16 points, Chandler Hall added 10 and second-ranked Buford (28-2) added to its impressive postseason resume. The Lady Wolves are back in the quarterfinals, with a home contest against Woodward Academy later this week as the only obstacle left between them and the final four.
But getting there was far from easy.
Buford had to shake off a pesky Decatur team (22-8) that stunned the Lady Wolves out of the gates with a 19-16 lead at halftime. The Lady Bulldogs continued to battle neck-and-neck with the Region 7-AAA champions, trailing by just three entering the fourth quarter.
A controversial technical foul on Buford center Bree Horrocks allowed Decatur a chance to tie the game at 27 with 4:07 left to play after Jayla Morrow made both free throws. It proved to be the last time the Lady Bulldogs evened the score.
The Lady Wolves closed out the game with a 14-1 run the rest of the way, making 10 of 13 free throws to secure the victory.
“I think the technical foul may have played in our hands instead of theirs,” Buford coach Gene Durden said.
The Lady Wolves shot 71 percent from the free throw line from the game, helping erase shooting miscues in the first half that allowed Decatur to control the pace for much of the first half.
All it took was a pair of third-quarter 3-pointers by Anderson – one to open the period and another to close it – and Buford seemingly had regained its offensive form.
“It was really, really big for Camille to come out and make those threes,” Durden said. “She struggled a little bit early, and you could see our whole team basically pick it up a little bit when she made those. That really got us back on track.”
Early in the game, neither team had much success finding the basket.
The first quarter ended with Buford on top just 8-3, with only Horrocks (eight points, nine rebounds total in the game) scoring more than a single basket on either side. She had four points and three rebounds in the period.
The Lady Wolves began to find a hint of offensive rhythm in the second quarter, jumping out to a 12-5 lead at the seven-minute mark after a pair of free throws by Anderson.
Things fell apart thereafter. Highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers from Morrow, Decatur used a 12-0 run to gain a 17-12 lead with 3:20 left to play in the first half. The Lady Bulldogs outscored Buford 14-4 through the last seven minutes of the second quarter.
“I felt like the second quarter we were way too passive,” Durden said. “We were on our heels and we weren’t looking to be aggressive. Our kids, that’s their only style they know to play.”
With the Lady Bulldogs ahead for the first time, Buford fought back to within one, 17-16, after a basket and plus-one from Anderson and another free throw by Chandler Hall, who also tallied six rebounds in the game.
“Chandler Hall played great,” Durden said. “Played great defense, exceptional on offense as far as knowing what to do. I thought she was a big, big catalyst in stopping one of their better offensive players.”
That included Morrow, who was held to just five points in the second half after her 10-point second quarter. Her 15 points led Decatur.
Morrow’s free throws early in the third quarter put the Lady Bulldogs up 21-19 following Anderson’s game-tying 3-pointer to open the half.
Horrocks tied the game at 21 on the next Buford possession, and Hall put the Lady Wolves back up 24-23 with a basket at 5:03. Anderson then added her second 3-pointer 2 ½ minutes later, giving Buford a 27-23 lead entering the fourth.
Decatur went 7 of 22 from the free throw line, giving Buford a little more freedom to play physical in the Lady Bulldogs’ paint, especially near the end of the game.
“I thought at the end, our kids stepping and making big free throws and them missing free throws, that was separation in the game,” Durden said. “We know we can’t compete for a championship unless we do a great job at the free throw line.”