BUFORD -- While the stars were doing their jobs, it was the understudies who turned the tide for Buford Thursday night against Cartersville in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA state basketball playoffs.
Connecticut-signee Rakin Lubin poured in 31 points from the inside, sophomore D'Marcus Simonds added 28 points from all over, and the Wolves survived a wild second half to beat the Hurricanes, 80-73.
But it was the play of Montgomery VanGorder and Keyton Gibson that was the difference. VanGorder held Cartersville sharp-shooter Corey Tobin, who drained seven first-half 3-pointers, to just one 3-pointer and eight points in the second-half. Gibson drew two huge charges, had two steals, and provided a key assist on a Lubin basket in a 9-0 run to reclaim the lead for the Wolves for good.
"Those two guys got the game balls," Buford coach Allen Whitehart said. "Van Gorder shut down Tobin in the second half and gave us a chance to defend everybody else. Keyton just did all the little things you need someone to do. They're both winners and you need those kinds of players to win championships."
Buford (27-5) moves on to play Callaway, a 71-68 winner over Swainsboro, in the semifinals at 3 p.m. Saturday at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
Whitehart said they aren't ready to pat themselves on the back just yet, however.
"We feel like we have unfinished business," he said. "We got this far last year but didn't finish things. We want to finish things this year."
Tobin was the story in the first half. The senior guard blistered the Buford defense hitting 7-of-10 3-pointers, including a four-point play that gave the Hurricanes their first lead at 26-23 early in the second quarter. The Wolves had led the entire way to that point.
The Cartersville defense showed it was ready for the Wolves forcing 15 first half turnovers that stymied Buford's offense most of the half. Lubin was the counter for the Wolves dominating the inside with 18 points and three rebounds but picked up his third foul late in the half and sat the final two minutes.
Buford opened the game with a 7-0 run and took an 18-14 lead into the second quarter as Matt McMorris would connect with Lubin and Simonds for several easy baskets, including two alley-oop dunks.
But the turnovers continued to pile up for the Wolves and Cartersville used its defense to spark an 11-4 run midway through the second quarter for a 33-26 lead. The teams would trade baskets until Tobins drained his final 3-pointer of the half for a 44-33 lead with 48 seconds left, the Hurricanes' biggest lead of the half.
Simonds would hit a shot moments later to cut it to 44-35 and the half ended that way.
Cartersville committed just four turnovers in the first half.
The Hurricanes extended their lead to 46-35 seconds into the third quarter on a basket by Hunter Benham but Buford began to chip away. Taylor Mills ignited a 10-2 run with a long 3-pointer and Simonds scored five consecutive points to pull the Wolves within 48-45 midway through the quarter.
VanGorder pressured Tobin during the run forcing two misfires on 3-pointers and Lubin would cap what eventually was a 17-6 spurt with a stickback basket to tie the game at 52. Tobin would hit his final 3-pointer of the game moments later to help the Hurricanes close out the quarter with a 58-54 lead.
"I just tried to stay with him everywhere he went, even during foul shots or whatever," VanGorder said. "He started to get mad a little. We didn't guard him in the first half and I told coach if I couldn't stay with him he could kick me off the team. I stayed with him."
McMorris fueled the fourth quarter rally, which included a key technical foul on the Hurricanes, with nine of his 16 points in the quarter. He started things with a jumper following a Lubin block to start a fastbreak. Gibson would find Lubin underneath for a three-point play and then take consecutive charges on defense.
VanGorder stole a long inbounds pass from Cartersville and converted that into a layup and Lubin would cap the rally with a stickback basket for a 63-58 lead. Cartersville never led again.
Lubin said he was most impressed with how the Wolves responded after falling down by 11 in the third quarter.
"It's all about how you respond and get back up," Lubin said. "They were talking to us a lot and trying to frustrate us but we just kept playing our game. We knew we could have some success inside and they were hacking and fouling but I was able to get some shots to go down.
"This was big for us because we responded like a team that wants to win. Hopefully this will help carry us to a title."
Cartersville cut the lead to 71-69 with 1:38 left on a Ryan Davis basket but would get no closer. The Wolves, who have had trouble at the free throw line at times this season, sealed the game by hitting 7-of-8 in the final 1:09. Gibson put the final clamps on things stealing a Cartersville pass with 13 seconds left.
Tobin finished with 29 points to lead the Hurricanes (27-3) who saw their 18-game win streak come to an end. Davis added 28 points, 17 in the second half.
Simonds also had six rebounds, five assists, and three steals to go with his 28 points for Buford.