BUFORD -- It takes a team to win championships and the Buford boys showed just what kind of team they can be Tuesday night against Blessed Trinity in the second round of the Class AAA playoffs.
The Wolves were without Region 7-AAA Player of the Year D'Marcus Simonds, out because of school-related issues, but proved that great teams are more than just one player. Matt McMorris, Justin Edwards, and Rakim Lubin picked up the slack and led them to a tough 45-40 victory at the Buford gym.
Buford led the entire first half and most of the third quarter but fell behind 30-25 after a 10-0 run by Blessed Trinity. A timeout by coach Allen Whitehart proved beneficial as they would answer with a 10-2 to reclaim the lead and never trail again.
"We just told them to stay the course," Whitehart said. "Keep playing defense and grind it out on offense. That's what they did. I'm extremely proud of how we responded."
McMorris was the catalyst running the offense in Simonds absence. The senior poured in 14 points to go with four assists and four steals.
"Matt played a great game," Whitehart said. "He stepped up for us and showed he can do a lot of things out there."
"With D'Marcus out I knew I would need to step it up and I just tried to do what I could to help us get a win," McMorris said. "I think we showed people that we're not just one or two people."
The Wolves (24-5) move on to the Elite 8 and a Thursday matchup with the St. Pius-Cartersville winner at home, where they are 14-1 on the season. They also pushed their win streak to 19 with the victory.
Buford advanced to the Final Four a year ago but McMorris said this team has even more potential.
"Last year everyone wasn't on the same page. This year's team I feel is much better," McMorris said. "We had great players last year but I feel like the chemistry this year is much better. I think we have a chance to do better than last year."
The second half was a struggle for Buford. The Wolves opened up a 25-20 lead, their biggest of the night, on a pair of Lubin free throws but the Titans exploded for their big run behind Garrett Michael, who started and finished the spurt with 3-pointers for a 30-25 lead.
Whitehart called his timeout and the Wolves would cut the lead to 30-29 at the end of the third quarter on a pair of free throws each by Edwards and McMorris. Lubin would open the fourth quarter with two more free throws to retake the lead.
Connor O'Neill reclaimed the lead for Blessed Trinity with a pair of free throws but Edwards, on an assist from McMorris, capped a 6-0 Buford run and the Titans never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
Buford hit six consecutive free throws in the final 1:18 to hold off Blessed Trinity.
"That was a good sign because we've had trouble with that in the past," Whitehart said.
Lubin would pace Buford with 15 points and added seven rebounds. Edwards finished with 10 points, all in the second half.
The first half was a tight affair. There were four lead changes and five ties in the opening 16 minutes.
Buford took the first lead on a Lubin basket a minute into the game but O'Neill tied it at 2-2 a minute later. Buford closed out the first quarter with a 9-6 lead.
The Titans (23-7) would rally to tie the game at 11 with 4:53 left in the half and then the two teams would trade baskets the rest of the half. The Wolves' Montgomery Van Gorder gave them a 14-11 lead but Michael tied it moments later for Blessed Trinity with his own 3-pointer.
The game would be tied at 16 and 18 before McMorris gave the Wolves a 21-18 halftime lead with a 3-pointer with two seconds left.
Michael and O'Neill each finished with 10 points for the Titans.