When the first-round pairings for the state tournament were announced, the No. 1-ranked Buford boys knew their opponent wasn’t going to be the typical pushover that a top-seeded team sees in the opener.
Buford, the Region 7-AAA champion, had to open the tournament against Cedar Grove, a team that was ranked as high as seventh in the state a month ago.
“We wrote it on the board. This was not a typical No. 4 seed,” said Buford coach Allen Whitehart. “They had a letdown in the region tournament and lost a couple of games. Our kids were aware of the situation.”
The properly prepared Wolves broke free midway in the first quarter, using a 12-2 run to set the pace as they rolled to a 61-43 win over Cedar Grove. Buford improved to 23-6.
The difference was the defense. Buford was able to physically impose itself on Cedar Grove, with Kyle Doyle grabbing rebounds and knocking away passes and shots. Point guard Isaiah Williams didn’t have much trouble against the Cedar Grove pressure and pushed the ball inside, where Doyle and A.J. Davis cashed in.
“Our defense has been bipolar all year,” Whitehart said. “One night it’s good and the next night it’s not. Recently we’ve been good on defense and I hope we can continue to get better.”
Cedar Grove, boosted by a boisterous group that made the long drive from south DeKalb, had much to be happy with early. A 3-pointer by Quintavious Brownlee gave the Saints a 7-6 lead midway in the first quarter.
But that’s where the fun ended. Doyle scored back-to-back buckets to spark the 12-2 streak and give the Wolves an 18-9 lead. Another 10-3 run pushed the lead to 14 points and the Saints never got closer than 13 the rest of the night.
“I thought we played well in the first half,” Whitehart said. “In the third quarter we put it in neutral. But we’ll take a win anytime you can get it in the state tournament.”
Buford was led by Doyle with 17, Williams with 13 and Davis with 11. Cedar Grove’s top scorer was Chris Fredrick with nine.
Cedar Grove coach James Martin showed displeasure with the officials throughout the game. He picked up a technical foul early in the third quarter after complaining too loudly. Martin afterwards didn’t want to comment on the game other than to say, “We’ve got a great bunch of guys and they didn’t deserve what happened tonight.”
Buford will host the Elbert County-Franklin County winner in the second round, probably on Saturday night at the Wolves Den.