OAKWOOD — Courtney Newton summed it up rather well after watching her Flowery Branch girls fall 49-41 to Buford in the Region 8-AAAAA championship for a second consecutive season.
“To beat them, you have to do all of the little things well. We missed free throws, came out slow to start the third quarter, and we didn’t take advantage of some of their mistakes,” she said afterwards. “You can’t have things like that and expect to beat them.”
The stats tell a strange story but bear Newton out. Buford forced 10 Flowery Branch turnovers in the first half yet led just 25-23 at halftime after committing 10 turnovers of their own in the opening 16 minutes.
Flowery Branch committed just three turnovers in the second half but missed five free throws in the fourth quarter while trying to mount a rally. The Wolves had opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run and led 40-28 early in the fourth quarter.
Flowery Branch pulled within six points three times in the fourth quarter but could get no closer. Buford coach Gene Durden said familiarity played a factor for both teams.
“We know their tendencies and they know ours. I thought both teams seemed a little tight in the first half,” he said. “We didn’t execute as well as I would have liked. But these kinds of games prepare you for the state tournament.”
After the Lady Wolves built their big lead, Flowery Branch chipped away behind Taniyah Worth, who scored eight straight points for the Lady Falcons. An Ashlee Locke basket got Flowery Branch within 44-38 with just over a minute left.
But the Lady Wolves defense forced Flowery Branch into four quick shots in the final minute and were able to hang on for the win despite missing three free throws of their own in the final minute.
It wasn’t the exact blueprint Durden had envisioned but it was good enough.
“We definitely need to execute better in situations like that,” he said. “This is a special group of seniors that have played together a long time. I was proud of how they fought till the end. It’s always great to have the chance to win a title and be able to accomplish that goal.”
It was a tight first half. Buford never trailed and the game was tied just once at 3 when Worth, who finished with 22 points, drained a 3-pointer to counter Tory Ozment’s three-point play to open the game.
The Lady Wolves answered with an 8-2 run and opened up a 19-9 lead following a Ozment jumper to open the second quarter. Lexi Sengkhemmee capped a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer to pull Flowery Branch within 19-16 two minutes later. Ashley Woodroffe got the Lady Falcons within 25-23 with a driving layup in the final 30 seconds of the half.
Ozment finished with 20 points to lead Buford. Tate Walters added 11 for the Lady Wolves.
Locke finished with 8 points.
Free throw shooting and missed opportunities were a factor for Flowery Branch. The Lady Falcons missed four uncontested layups during the game and were just 9-of-18 from the foul line.
BUFORD BOYS 79,
CLARKE CENTRAL 75
When they needed him most, Alex Jones delivered to help the Wolves claim their second consecutive Region 8-AAAAA crown..
After watching the Gladiators erase a 46-38 lead with an 18-8 run for a 54-52 lead, their first since 4-2 in the opening minute of the game, Jones took matters into his on hands.The senior guard answered with a jumper and closed out the third quarter with a driving layup at the buzzer. He added five more points to open the fourth quarter, including a steal, and dished out an assist on a Marcus Watson 3-pointer for a 67-63 lead they would not relinquish again.
Buford coach Eddie Martin just smiled when asked if that was part of the game plan coming out of the third quarter break.
“No, but Alex just has a sixth-gear,” Martin said. “Someone needed to kind of get things going and he usually is the one to do that. We knew it was going to be a battle. They had played us tough the first two games and they were hungry.”
The Wolves led virtually the entire first half and built a pair of 10-point leads in the second quarter. After falling behind 35-25 on a Donell Nixon 3-pointer, Clarke Central chipped away and got within 39-34 at halftime.
A 7-4 run in the opening minutes of the second half pushed Buford’s lead to 46-38 but the Gladiators answered that with a 16-6 run for their first lead since the first quarter. That's when Jones took over.
Clarke Central never quit, however, taking advantage of several Buford misses at the free throw line and a Jaron Washington 3-pointer with 6 seconds left cut the lead to 77-75. But the Wolves sealed it with two Nixon free throws with 5 seconds left.
“I was real proud of how the kids kept their composure in the fourth quarter,” Martin said. “It’s harder to repeat than it is to win the first one so I’m just real proud of these guys right now.”
The trio of Watson, Jones, and Nixon put the team on their shoulder in the fourth quarter. Watson had 23 for the game, 11 in the final period. Jones had six of his 15 and Nixon had six of his 14 in the fourth quarter.
Center Quamantae Monfort led Clarke Central with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Washington finished with 12 points and Mijah Campbell added 10 points for the Gladiators.