RABBITTOWN -- Buford sophomore Isaac Nauta showed just how versatile an athlete he is Friday night.
Already considered one of the premier tight ends in America, Nauta displayed his basketball prowess in helping the Wolves hold off East Hall 81-76 in a critical Region 7-AAA matchup at Valhalla.
Nauta poured in 17 points to go with 16 rebounds to fill the void left when Buford senior standout Rakim Lubin, a Connecticut commit, was called for a first quarter technical foul and was taken out by Buford coach Allen Whitehart for the remainder of the game.
"Isaac really stepped up for us when we needed him," Whitehart said. "He's the most coachable kid I've ever been around and he showed what kind of athlete he is. He can do anything.
"We took Rakim out after he got the technical because we're trying to show him that we can't have that kind of thing later in the season. We would rather take him out of a regular season game than have him miss one in the playoffs."
Buford (12-5, 8-0 Region 7-AAA) ran its win streak to six with the victory and now holds a three-game lead on East Hall in the region standings. The Wolves are two games ahead of Dawson County.
Despite the loss East Hall (8-9, 5-3) has won four of its last six games with two of its region losses coming to Buford. The Vikings are still in the thick of the race for second place in the region.
Nauta and sophomore D'Marcus Simonds, who finished with 31 points and five assists, helped Buford build several large double-digit leads throughout the game. The Wolves led 26-11 in the first quarter and 34-20 in the second. They led 64-50 with 7:40 left in the game after Simonds converted a three-point play to open the fourth quarter.
But East Hall, behind junior Kyvon Davenport, rallied back each time. The Vikings got within 37-30 late in the second quarter and then pulled within 74-72 with 44 seconds left in the game on a Davenport basket.
Davenport finished with 36 points and 19 rebounds. However, the Vikings had major trouble handling the Wolves' press in the final minute and committed five straight turnovers that turned into a 79-72 lead with 15 seconds left.
"There's no quit in this bunch," East Hall coach Joe Dix said. "We got it down to two points but we killed ourselves with turnovers. I don't think nerves were it because this is Game 17. We should be over the jitters by now. We just need to take care of the ball better."
Nauta and Davenport looked like two heavyweights battling inside. Nauta looked drained afterwards.
"He's quick and long and tough to guard," Nauta said of Davenport. "I just tried to get position on him when I could. It was a good battle all night.
"I just tried to do what the coaches wanted me to do. I knew I had to pick it up with Rakim out. I felt like it was probably my best of the season."
Buford came out strong opening up an 11-2 lead in the first three minutes behind Simonds, who had four points and two assists in the run. The Wolves pushed the lead to 17-4 on consecutive baskets by Nauta.
The key play of the first half occurred when Lubin picked up a technical foul for taunting following a dunk over two Vikings. He would leave the game and not re-enter.
The Wolves closed out the quarter with a 7-2 run for a 26-13 lead.
East Hall made its move in the second quarter, behind Davenport, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds in the half. The Vikings chipped away getting to within 39-34 with just over a minute left on a basket by Jacquen Hopkins but Buford's Taylor Mills drained a 3-pointer for the final points and a 42-34 halftime lead.
The third quarter was back-and-forth as Buford built an 11-point lead, and then East Hall closed within six. The Wolves pushed their back to 58-45 but the Vikings cut it to 61-50 heading into the fourth.
East Hall got to 64-60 midway through the fourth quarter on eight straight points by Davenport and stayed within six points the rest of the way. However, the Vikings went just 1-for-8 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter and could not get closer than two points.
Mills finished with 10 points for Buford.
Hopkins finished with 12 points for East Hall.
The Vikings will look to bounce back at North Hall on Tuesday, while Buford will face Johnson in an intriguing non-region showdown at 1 p.m. Monday in the MLK Classic tournament at Berkmar High in Gwinnett County/
BUFORD GIRLS 51
EAST HALL 30
Buford opened the game with a 12-0 en route to the victory.
The Lady Wolves (16-1, 8-0 Region 7-AAA) forced five turnovers and four different players scored during the decisive run. East Hall could not solve the Lady Wolves' full-court press and managed just four shots in the first five minutes.
It wasn't until Chelsea Dale drained a long 3-pointer the Lady Vikings got on the board to cut the lead to 12-3 with 2:02 left in the first quarter. Buford closed out the opening period with a 6-2 run to take an 18-5 lead.
The Lady Wolves led by as many as 18 points, 32-14, with 34 seconds left in the half. But Dale scored five points in the final seconds to cut the deficit to 32-19 by halftime.
Buford put the game out of reach in the third quarter. The Lady Wolves opened the second half with a 7-0 run and held East Hall to just three points in the period, leading 49-22 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Lady Vikings scored the first eight points to pull within 49-30 but could get no closer.
Camille Anderson led Buford with 13 points and added four assists, with most of the damage coming in the first half. Caitlyn Dawkins added nine points off the bench for the Lady Wolves, who had nine different players score.
Jenny Edwards paced East Hall (8-9, 1-6) with 15 points. Dale finished with nine points on three 3-pointers.
It was the 16th straight win for Buford after falling to Morgan County in the season-opener. East Hall has lost three straight region games.