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Posted: Monday, January 20th 2014 at 11:52pm

Boys basketball: Wolves hold off Knights' late charge in MLK Classic

By Morgan Lee Editor
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Buford's D'Marcus Simonds, right, drives under pressure from Johnson's Roderick English in the Wolves' win on Monday in Lilburn.
LILBURN –- Allen Whitehart knew it was coming, and when it did he was glad to see his team respond –- even if the Wolves did leave a few hearts in throats.

The Buford boys basketball team stared down a fourth-quarter charge from Johnson on Monday in the BCB/MLK Showcase at Berkmar High School, sinking four straight free throws inside the final 39 seconds to snatch a 71-68 victory in Lilburn.

“They’re a good team, and I expected them to make a run -- I just expected it come a little earlier,” said Whitehart, who watched his team build a comfortable 59-44 lead after three quarters before the Knights caught fire inside the final six minutes, going on a 12-4 run to pull within 63-56 on James Hodges’ lay-in with 3:15 remaining.

Johnson’s push set the stage for an exciting finish settled only when Keyton Gibson and Taylor Mills sank four straight free throws inside the final minute to give Buford (13-5) breathing room at 71-66.

“Luckily we did enough to win, but we helped them out today by turning the ball over and being dumb,” Whitehart said. “We showed we still have a lot to work on. That was a playoff team and we showed today that we have to do a better job finishing playoff teams off.”

Though pleased with his team’s fightback, Knights coach Jeff Steele also saw plenty room for improvement.

“We’ve got to get all of our hearts and minds on the same page,” Steele said. “Until we do that, we’re not going to be able to accomplish what I think this team is capable of. I feel like we’re better than what we showed today. We played about six minutes today and we still had a chance at the end. I’m glad the kids didn’t lie down, but we’ve got to get better.”

Johnson fell behind early and struggled to contain Buford’s combination of size inside -- paced by senior forward Rakim Lubin -- and dialed-in oustide shooting, as the Wolves drained five 3-pointers in the first half. Lubin, who finished with 18 points, also ripped down 10 of his 15 rebounds in the first half.

Lubin’s work inside and the scoring ability of D’Macrcus Simonds -- who scored 15 of his team-high 22 in the first half -- helped the Wolves to a 25-13 first quarter lead that grew to 40-26 at the half.

Johnson (14-4) tried to pull back into the contest after the interval, closing within 42-32 on Hodges’ lay-up with 5:00 left in the third quarter. Hodges helped lead the Knights and held his own inside with Lubin, scoring a game-high 23, but Buford charged right back, Matt McMorris and Montgomery VanGorder drilling 3-pointers to help the Wolves to a 59-44 lead that stretched to 63-46 early in the fourth quarter.

The Knights were far from finished, however, as Justin Jones, Ty Cockfield and Carter Cagle each scored, including treys from Jones and Cagle that sparked a 12-4 run that got Johnson right back into contention.

Buford’s Taylor Mills buried his own 3-pointer with just under two minutes remaining to establish a 66-56 Wolves lead. But Cagle fired right back with another 3-pointer and Hodges sank two free throws to pull within 66-61 with 1:24 remaining. And by the time Daemonte Wilson stole a Buford inbounds pass and fed Drew Dunham for a lay-in, Johnson had closed within 67-66 with 44 seconds remaining.

Having faced a number of close contests already this season -- including Friday’s 81-76 win at East Hall -- Buford remained calm and did what was required: hitting free throws. The Wolves sank 8 of 11 attempts in the fourth quarter, including four straight inside the final 39 seconds.

Johnson had one look at knotting the contest when trailing 69-66 with 30 seconds left to play but a 3-point attempt rimmed out, and Buford pulled away for the win.

McMorris finished with 15 points for Buford, while Mills added 10.

Dunham added 13 for Johnson, all in the second half, and Cagle finished with 11.

“We’ve become a more complete team over the past few weeks with guys like Isaac Nauta and (Justin Edwards) working in to the rotation,” Whitehart said. “But we can definitely keep improving.”

Buford will look to keep its winning ways going on Tuesday when the Wolves travel to Banks County.

Johnson, meanwhile, faces another big non-region test on Tuesday, taking on Class A power Athens Christian on Tuesday in Oakwood.
Associated Categories: Sports News, High School Sports

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