BUFORD -- Given the success of the Dawson County boys basketball team over the past several years, Monday's 65-55 win for the Tigers over East Hall in the Region 7-AAA semifinals at the Buford gym doesn't seem such a big surprise.
Unless you're Dawson County coach Thad Burgess.
The long-time Tigers coach came into the season replacing his entire starting unit and was willing to accept a rebuilding year with an inexperienced group. His players had other plans.
"I always believe in my players but honestly for us to get this far has been a total shock to me. But a very pleasant one," he said. "We had some growing pains early but they have really come together as a team. I think that was the key for us (against East Hall)."
Dawson County now will go for a second region title in three years Tuesday taking on Buford-White County in the finals. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. The Tigers won the Region 8-AA title in 2012.
It was a nip-and-tuck affair the entire first half as the lead changed hands seven times to go with five ties, including at 36 as they headed for the half. East Hall held a seven-point lead (23-16) late in the first quarter but the Tigers used a 17-4 in the second quarter to take a 33-27 lead. The Vikings (15-12) would tie the game just before half on a Caleb Holtzclaw 3-pointer.
East Hall would take the first lead of the second half on a Jacquen Hopkins basket but Dawson County would explode for a 12-2 run, capped by a Lucas Pain 3-pointer, for a 48-40 lead. The Tigers would never trail again.
Dawson County was able to maintain its lead with its defense, collapsing on Vikings' star Kyvon Davenport with two and three defenders, and challenging every 3-point shot.
"Kyvon is so tough that is the only way for us to try and slow him down," Burgess said. "We did a good job. I don't think we let them have many open 3-point shots either. That's what we have to do to win games and the guys are doing everything we ask right now."
The Tigers put the game away going 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 52 seconds while East Hall missed its final eight 3-pointers. The Vikings were 5-of-10 on 3-pointers in the first half but just 1-for-12 in the second half.
Cameron Millholland finished with 20 points to pace Dawson County. Pain added 13 points and six rebounds and Levi Whitmire had 11 points for the Tigers.
Davenport finished with 19 points and nine rebounds but had just eight points in the second half. He also had six blocks. Hopkinds had 11 points and Antonio Maddox nine for the Vikings.
BUFORD BOYS 63,
WHITE COUNTY 55
D'Marcus Simonds poured in 24 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, to help the Wolves hold off a spirited effort by White County.
The win moved Buford (22-5) into Tuesday's championship game against Dawson County.
Early on it looked like Buford was ready to blow the Warriors (17-9) out of the gym. They opened the game with an 8-0 run forcing three White County turnovers in the first three minutes.
But, the Warriors' Bradley Hurst would get them back in the game with five consecutive points. That would trigger a 16-1 White County run as the Warriors would lead 16-11 after the first quarter.
Buford would answer, though. Simonds scored seven straight points for the Wolves to pull them into an 18-18 tie. After a Buford basket to reclaim the lead, Hurst drained another 3-pointer to give the Warriors a 21-20 lead with 4:05 left in the half. It would be their last lead of the game.
Spencer Adams hit three free throws two minutes later to tie the game at 24 but the Wolves would close out the half with a 5-2 run for a 29-26 lead.
White County tied the game at 29-29 a minute into the third quarter on three straight points by Adams. Buford would take control with an 8-2 run and White County would get as close as four points the rest of the way.
The Wolves kept White County within striking distance by missing eight free throws in the quarter.
Rakim Lubin finished with 18 points for Buford, but was just 4-of-13 from the free throw line for the game.
Adams had 18 points to lead White County, 13 coming in the second half. Hurst finished with 11 for the Warriors.