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Wednesday August 17th, 2022 12:44AM

Boys basketball playoffs: Long road trips await Buford, Jefferson, Towns Co. in Elite 8

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
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Just three Northeast Georgia-area boys teams moved on to the Elite 8 round of the Georgia High School Association state playoffs last week.

And all three face tough road trips as they look to advance to the Final 4 for the weekend.

Buford, the No. 2 seed from Region 8-6A, heads to Region 5 champion Carrollton looking for its first semifinals berth since winning the Class 5A state title in 2019. The Trojans are looking for just their second-ever semifinal appearance and first since 2015.

In Class 4A, Region  8-4A champ Jefferson makes the long trek to Albany to face Region 1 champion Westover in a battle of two teams that have een ranked in the top five most of the season. The Dragons are looking for their second Final 4 berth in three seasons. They finished as state runners-up in 2020. The Patriots are looking for their second consecutive Final 4 appearance.

And in Class A Public, defending state champion Towns County, despite some key off-season losses, has yet to relinquish its crown. The Indians, the No. 2 seed from Region 8-A, are seeking their second straight semifinals after knocking off Region 2 champion Charlton County last week. They hit the road again, this time heading to Region 5 champion and fifth-ranked Manchester. However, the Blue Devils have not gotten past the quarterfinals since 2016 and experience may be on the Indians' side.

Towns County coach Brian Hunnitcutt, who took over this season for the retired Rob Benson, said the target on their backs has been a big one all season. But a core of three returning seniors has helped a slew of newcomers navigate through what has turned into another surprise tournament run.

"We definitely had a target on our back from what was accomplished last year by Coach Benson's team," Hunnicutt said. "We lost nine players from that team and Coach Benson retired. But our opponents only see defending state champions and fortunately our three returning seniors...have brought that confidence and steadiness from being state champions. This has been such a gratifying season and a fun team to coach."

Last year the Indians won a huge road game in Irwin County in the quarterfinals to advance to the semfinals. Long playoff road trips have become the norm. Also, they beat Manchester 78-67 in the first round in last year's playoffs.

"This group is certainly accustomed to long trips. All of our region games are three hours away, last year's championship run went all over the state, and last week we went as far as you can go and still be in Georgia," Hunnicutt said. "But we're just excited to still be playing basketball. Manchester is a great shooting team, they have three great guards and play hard. We must limit their outside shots.

"They also like to press and get teams to turn the ball over so we're going to have to protect the ball and be patient. Essentially, we need to play our game, do what we do best...and see what happens."

Towns County is one of two unranked teams still alive in the Class A Public playoffs, and defense has been the key. The Indians held both Bowdon and Charlton County to just 51 points each in the first two rounds. But senior Collin Crowder could be a deciding force for Towns County.

"We play a somewhat unique half court defense and when we're aggressive and disciplined, we can be tough to score on," Hunnicutt said. "Collin averaging 28 points a game doesn't hurt either. That kid should be the Class A Player of the Year, and whatever college gets him is going to be getting a stud."

(Check below for the day and times of all three Elite 8 matchups.)

QUARTERFINAL ROUND BOYS PLAYOFF SCHEDULE, Tuesday, March 1

CLASS 4A
Jefferson (R1, S1) at Westover (R1, S1) , 6 p.m. -- WDUN AM 550/102.9 FM

QUARTERFINAL ROUND BOYS PLAYOFF SCHEDULE, Wednesday, March 2

CLASS 6A
Buford (R8, S2) at Carrollton (R5, S1), 7 p.m.

CLASS A PUBLIC
Towns County (R8, S2) at Manchester (R5, S1), 6 p.m.

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