BUFORD — The White County girls basketball team did just about the same thing coach Buster Brown has seen it do numerous times this season: Come out flat in the first half.
This time, the Lady Warriors were able to make up for it after halftime.
Sophomore Paige Thomas scored 16 of her team-high 20 points in the second half to lead White County to a 37-32 win against North Hall in the opening round of the Region 7-AAA Tournament at Buford High, securing the White County girls program its first state tournament berth since 2002.
“This is the way we’ve played all year,” Brown said. “We played horribly in the first half, but the kids are resilient — they’re going to battle.”
The Lady Warriors (15-9) won’t have any room to let up thanks to the win. They play Buford at 7 p.m. Friday at North Hall High in the region tournament semifinals.
North Hall (14-10), which reached the Class AAA state semifinals last season, albeit with an almost completely different roster, finishes its season one game shy of a third consecutive postseason trip.
The Lady Trojans swept White County in the regular season, winning 42-37 and 55-53, which gave them the No. 4 seed for the tournament ahead of No. 5 White County.
Jordan Nix led the Lady Trojans with 11 points, scoring nine in the first half as North Hall built a 16-11 advantage.
At the half White County had as many turnovers as points, and had seen numerous layups miss the net.
“Nobody could pass the ball, we didn’t warm up well, didn’t defend well,” Thomas said. “And nobody was driving to the basket.”
Starting early in the third quarter, Thomas took it upon herself to make something happen.
“Paige decided she was going to bring the ball to the basket,” Brown said. “I think Paige’s willingness to go to the basket made the difference.”
Riley Slaton started a 6-0 run to start the second half to give White County its first lead at 17-16, but North Hall took it back as Emily Truelove sank 3 of 4 free throws to restore the Lady Trojans’ advantage.
White County guard Brooke Helton followed with a jumper to even the game at 19, and then Thomas hit a jumper with 2:10 remaining to put the Lady Warriors ahead for good. She finished the third with another shot to give White County a 24-19 lead.
“I knew that if we were going to win, I had to drive the ball,” Thomas said. “I noticed (the openings) more in the second half.”
She exploited her advantage even more in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of her teams’ final 13 points to hold off a rally attempt by North Hall, which got a pair of late 3-pointers by Allie Staub and pulled within one point on two separate occasions in the final 2:30.
Each time, Thomas responded with a basket to keep White County in control.
Now, the sophomore’s excited for a first taste of state.
“This will be my first time, so I’m just pumped to play different people at state,” she said. “We have five seniors and we wanted to win it for them.”
Brown, although still not pleased with the play in the first half, was happy to see his squad finally reach state.
“I’m just proud of the girls,” he said. “It’s the first time in 11 years they’re going to state, and they’re excited about that.”
BUFORD GIRLS 53, WEST HALL 8: The Lady Wolves scored 10 consecutive points to finish the first quarter and outscored the Lady Spartans 14-2 in the second quarter, allowing them to cruise to a win Wednesday in the first round of the Region 7-AAA Tournament at Buford High.
With the win Buford (21-4), the Class AA state runners-up last season, clinches a spot in the 2013 Class AAA state tournament, as well as a spot in the tournament semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday against White County at North Hall.
With the loss, West Hall’s season is finished.
Bree Horrocks and Camille Anderson each scored 10 points for Buford, while Kaelyn Gattis led West Hall (9-17) with six.