BUFORD -- North Hall boys coach Benjie Wood didn't look like a man who had just guided his team to an impressive 68-63 win over state-title contender Buford on the road Friday night.
A more concerned look for Trojans star Ethan Smith, who went down with an apparent head injury with 1:36 left in the game and did not return, dampened what is arguably their biggest win of the season.
"I'm just worried about Ethan," Wood said. "Right now I'd say his status is uncertain (on whether he will be available for next week's Region 7-AAA tournament). We'll have to see."
The win for the Trojans (23-2, 13-1 Region 7-AAA) -- their ninth straight -- officially moved them a half-game ahead of Buford (19-5, 12-1) in the standings. The loss for the Wolves, who finish the regular season at home against Fannin County Saturday, snapped their 14-game win streak.
Immediately after game North Hall completed the improbable night by winning the coin-flip in the event of a tie.
"That could be big but I'm sure we'll probably see (Buford) again and seedings won't really matter then," Wood said.
Smith's injury cast a pall over the celebration for North Hall, which took the lead for good late in the third quarter and then held off a furious fourth quarter rally by the Wolves.
Senior Griffin Olsen, who also was briefly knocked out of the game with a hip injury but returned to help guide the victory down the stretch, said the win could be just the confidence boost the Trojans were looking for.
"It was a physical game," Griffin said after limping out of the locker room. "We felt like we had them at home [a 52-45 loss to the Wolves in their first meeting] but let that one slip away. This game proved that we can beat the really good teams. It's a huge lift for us. Now we just have to hope Ethan is okay."
On Tuesday North Hall showed it can play shut-down defense in a 38-37 win over Dawson County. On Friday the Trojans showed they can play offense and that getting into a free throw shooting contest with them could prove fatal.
The Trojans were 28-of-34 for the game and a perfect 13-for-13 in the third quarter and hit 20 straight free throws in the second half to hold off several Buford runs.
"Sometimes when someone hits a few in a row everyone just kinds of feeds off it. I think that's what happened (tonight)," Olsen said.
North Hall trailed 22-20 at halftime but opened the second half with a 10-3 run and a basket by Smith gave them their biggest lead of the night to that point at 32-27. Buford rallied to tie the game at 32 on a Kyle Doyle basket but the Trojans closed out the period with a 14-2 run over the final 2:16 to take a 46-34 lead into the fourth quarter.
Griffin would spark the big run with a 3-pointer and then cap the run with three free throws with :00.3 seconds remaining. Griffin had eight of his 15 points in a 1:56 span.
The teams would trade baskets to open the fourth quarter and then Buford, behind Isaiah Williams, who poured in 14 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter, responded with a 14-6 run to pull within 54-50 with 2:56 left. But they could get no closer.
The Wolves pulled to within 67-63 on a Williams 3-pointer with 22 seconds left but Avery Cagle hit one free throw with 18 seconds left and Buford would miss two 3-pointers in the final seconds.
Wood said he felt Friday's defensive effort equaled the one his team displayed against Dawson County. They rendered Buford star A.J. David a virtual non-factor with just 11 points and three assists.
"We just play our defense. We didn't do anything different (against Davis) but I thought we were as good as the other night," he said. "We are a senior-laden group that sticks together and works hard. They are just a tough group."
Smith dazzled at times for North Hall, especially in the third quarter, when he constantly attacked the Wolves basket and poured in 10 of his team-high 21 points. Adam Kelly had eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, including a huge three-point play to give the Trojans a 59-50 lead with 2:33 left.
The first half was as tight as the 22-20 Buford lead at intermission suggest. Nine lead changes and four ties highlighted the defensive battle.
Buford grabbed the initial lead on a 3-pointer by Williams but North Hall's Zach Tibbs tied the game on a long 3-pointer 30 seconds later. The Trojans would grab their first lead, 5-3, on a layup by Smith a minute later.
The Wolves would reel off a 6-0 run highlighted by a pair of baskets from Doyle for a 9-5 lead. But North Hall answered with a 6-0 run of its own on back-to-back 3-pointers from Smith and Brock Wingo to take an 11-9 lead. Buford closed out the first quarter on a 4-0 run on two baskets from Justice Bartley.
The Trojans reclaimed the lead at 14-13 to open the second quarter on another 3-pointer from Tibbs and the two teams would exchange the lead on three consecutive possessions.
North Hall tied the game at 20 on a 3-pointer from Olsen with 55 seconds left but Buford would take a 22-20 lead on a basket by Davis.
Doyle finished with 12 points and Bartley added 10 for Buford.