GAINESVILLE -- Allen Whitehart had an ace up his sleeve on Saturday -- and facing a fired-up North Hall in the Region 7-AAA championship game, the Buford boys basketball coach figured it was time to play it.
Leading 28-27 at halftime, the Wolves came out of the interval employing a 1-3-1 zone defense.
Judging by the results, Buford fans may expect to see plenty more of the scheme this postseason. The set-up bedeviled the Trojans' normally-potent attack, holding North Hall to just nine second half points to help the Wolves pull away for a 50-36 victory in Gainesville.
"I was holding that in my pocket for the right time," Whitehart said. "I actually have to give credit to a friend of mine, David Boyd, who came to see us and said, 'with the length you guys have, you have to go with a 1-3-1.' "
That length, led by 6-foot-8 point guard AJ Davis, clogged passing lanes and harassed the Trojans on the perimeter, allowing just one field goal in the third quarter -- a lay-up from Adam Kelly.
Defensive pressure also led to offense for Buford, including eight points off turnovers, as the Wolves put together a 15-3 run through the third and early into the fourth quarter. The push helped Buford take firm control over the final eight minutes, as North Hall never pulled closer than nine points in a game that had see-sawed through the first half.
"I'm glad we're away from North Hall for a while," said Whitehart, whose team fell to the Trojans at home just eight days ago. "They do an amazing job, and (coach) Benjie (Wood) really does a great job with those guys. I think this whole region has prepared us well for the state tournament."
Buford (23-6) will enter next week's state playoffs as the No. 1 seed from 7-AAA. It will play host to Cedar Grove -- the No. 4 seed from 6-AAA. North Hall (25-3) will also get at least one home game as the No. 2 seed from 7-AAA, taking on Decatur in Gainesville.
The Trojans -- who entered as the No. 1 seed for the 7-AAA tournament -- showed they were prepared for the challenge against Buford in the early going on Saturday, trading baskets with the Wolves, as Ethan Smith and Adam Kelly led the charge with 12 and 10 first half points, respectively. Smith drained two first half 3-pointers to help counter a steady output from Buford. Yet North Hall couldn't keep pace in the second half, despite another 3-pointer from Smith, who finished with a team-high 16. Kelly added 13, while Griffin Olson also scored seven -- the Trojans scoring total for the night.
Buford put together a steady diet of lay-ups and putbacks, punctuated by the occasional dunk, as Davis, Kyle Doyle (6-7), Brad Mapes (6-5) and Coby Durden (6-4) took turns doing the damage. Davis finished with a game-high 18, while Doyle added 12. Durden also finished with 10 on a night when the Wolves hit no 3-pointers and went 0-for-7 from the free throw line.
"It's all about shared sacrifice," Whitehart said. "Tonight AJ had a big night, but the next game it may be Isaiah's turn or Kyle's turn. They're all incredible players."
Despite Buford's height advantage, North Hall battled throughout underneath the basket, pulling down 21 rebounds to Buford's 27. But after Kelly's lay-in with 4:07 left in the third quarter pulled North Hall within 32-29 the Wolves began to pull away, Doyle and Davis forcing turnovers that they converted into breakaway dunks for a 42-30 advantage with 7:32 left to play.