For three quarters, Courtney-Newton Gonzalez and No. 4 Flowery Branch girls basketball team showed top-ranked Buford they could hang with the best.
But once again, it wasn’t enough.
In a seesaw affair between the top two teams in the Region 8-AAAAA, the Lady Wolves managed to pull away in a 51-46 win and cap the regular season sweep of their neighboring rivals.
There were 10 lead changes -- seven in the second half -- in a rematch inside the new Buford City Schools Arena.
The Lady Falcons (16-4, 7-2 Region 8-AAAAA), who had won seven of their last eight since the teams’ last meeting, had the edge over top-ranked Buford (18-1, 9-0) for much of the way. Flowery Branch led 23-21 at the half and even carried a one-point advantage into the final quarter.
The Lady Wolves had a little juice left, breaking free on a seven-minute, 10-3 run before Julianne Sutton scored a layup with less than two minutes to play.
Tory Ozment (two blocks) hit a layup of her own and added her final three free throws in the fourth quarter to put the finishing touches on another big night. Ozment was the only starter to amass double figures with 18 points, followed by Pamela Johnson with eight and Tate Walters with six.
“It was a game of runs, and they went on one at a key time, and we didn’t respond very well to that,” said Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez.
“Overall we played an excellent game, but we can’t take plays off. We definitely can’t take minutes off. I’m proud of my team in the way they improved from the first time. We gotta keep trusting the process.”
Meanwhile, Flowery Branch junior Taniyah Worth (16 points, 13 rebounds), who scored 15 points and added nine boards to nearly notch a double-double in the first half, was grounded in the final 16 minutes with no field goals and only one point.
Buford coach Gene Durden credited the Lady Falcons for their ability to execute for the majority of the night. Durden said the Wolves had to do a little bit of everything to fend off a much-improved Falcons unit from the first time around.
“We went half-court defense, half-court offense,” said Durden. “And you know, everybody thinks we’re a pressing team. But pressing is not going to win you a championship. You gotta be able to do it in the half court. You gotta be able to grind, both offensively and defensively.”
The Falcons opened the game with turnovers on their first three possessions. Buford, meanwhile, exploded ahead on a 7-0 run to start, with Ozment scoring five points and recording a steal during that span.
Worth responded in kind by accounting for nine of Flowery Branch’s 13 points to follow, including a 3-pointer from way outside the left wing to tie it at 13-13 with 8 seconds left in the period.
Worth drained her second trey from the left corner to give the Falcons a 16-13 lead near the 7-minute mark of the second quarter and then added another from almost the exact same spot before Tory Ozment knocked down her first 3 of the game on the other end.
“They executed, they did a great job of giving their kids shots,” Durden said. “They can shoot the basketball, and we didn’t respond real well (in first half).”
Ozment opened the second half with a 3 to give Buford its third lead of the game before the Lady Falcons surged back ahead on a 9-0 run that included a 3-pointer by Lexie Sengkhammee (five points).
Newton Gonzalez is still waiting on the day her team can put together a complete game.
“We played three-and-a-half really good quarters again tonight, but that doesn’t beat teams like Buford,” the coach said.
“You gotta put four quarters together, buckle down for the whole 32 minutes. You can’t beat great teams with that.”
Flowery Branch faces Greater Atlanta Christian in a non-region game Saturday, while Buford plays at Walnut Grove at 6 p.m. today.
BUFORD BOYS 74, FLOWERY BRANCH BOYS 61: The Falcons had no answer for Buford’s Alex Jones, who produced a career night by racking up a game-high 37 points and hitting a perfect 14-for-14 clip from the charity stripe.
The Falcons trailed by only four entering the fourth quarter before Jones took the reins. He sunk 10 of his 18 points from the free-throw line in the final eight minutes to help the Wolves (18-2, 8-0 Region 8-AAAAA) pull away.
The Wolves were also a combined 25 of 27 from the free-throw line for the contest. Donell Nixon (16 points) and Tobi Obasanya (10 points) also scored in the double figures for Buford.
For the Falcons (16-5, 5-4), John Mills had a breakout night from beyond the arc with a team-high five 3-pointers as part of a 21-point scoring effort. Brannon Clark followed with 20 points, while Justin Quick had eight.