Spartans knock off No. 1 Buford

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

BUFORD -- Down nine points to Buford with 1:38 left in regulation of Friday night's Region 6-AA showdown, GAC's girls were in serious danger of dropping their fifth straight to the top-ranked Wolves.

Chaney Means wasn't about to let it happen without a fight.

The 5-foot-8 senior hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 1:26, including the game-tying trey with 13.4 seconds left to force overtime, where the No. 6 Spartans kept momentum to steal a 56-52 victory and tie Buford for the region lead.

"It was a good team win," said Means, who finished the game of her young life with 18 points, 17 rebounds, eight steals, four blocked shots and four assists. "Everyone stepped up and played with a lot of heart at the end."

Both GAC (17-4, 10-1) and Buford displayed plenty of heart at different times of the game.

The Wolves rallied after trailing 12-4 early -- thanks in no small part to Means turning steals on the Wolves' first three possession into layups -- and by as much as 10 points in the second quarter.

Behind the inside play of Shareese Williams and reserve McKenzie Darrah, Buford (19-2, 10-1) battled back to within 22-20 by halftime.

With Andraya Carter scoring 12 of her game-high 19 points in the third quarter, the Wolves outscored GAC 23-13 in the period to take as much as 10-point lead before settling for a 43-35 advantage heading into the final frame.

And when Carter hit the last of four straight free throws in a 39-second span, the Buford lead was 49-40 with just 1:38 left in regulation.

That when Means began to work her magic. A 3-pointer from the top of the key pulled GAC to within 49-43 with 1:26 left.

But it is what the Western Kentucky-bound guard told the Spartans in the ensuing timeout that may have had the biggest impact.

"I just said, 'Keep your heads up and believe we can do it,'" Means said.

Still, the Spartans needed some help, but got it when Buford missed the front end of a 1-and-1, which Clarke Boards took advantage of by hitting her first three points of the game with a trey from the left wing, making the score 49-46 with 52 seconds left.

Buford had another chance to put the game away, but two more missed free throws gave GAC further life.

"When you're up nine with two minutes to go and you don't convert free throws and you don't take care of the basketball, you take a chance on getting beat, and we did," Buford coach Gene Durden said.

That wouldn't have been possible without a fortunate bounce when Means fired a wild shot from the left wing after the final two Buford missed free throws that bounced off the glass and went cleanly through, tying the game 49-49 with 13.4 seconds left.

"I tried to act like I was trying to (bank it in), but no, I didn't," said Means said, who shot just 1-for-12 from the field against Buford earlier this season and was 1-for-11 in GAC's win over Lovett on Tuesday. "But I've been having a rough year shooting the ball, so it was nice to get that break."

After two last Buford attempts in the final 4.6 seconds were off the mark, to force overtime, GAC jumped out in front behind one of its two 6-2 freshmen starters.

Kristina Nelson hit a baseline jumper 20 seconds into the extra period, and then connected on a stickback after a Buford turnover to push the Spartans in front for good at 53-49.

Boards then hit a pair of free throws with 39.3 seconds left, and the comeback was complete.

"These girls have showed a lot of heart and courage lately," GAC coach Cal Boyd said. "I'm very proud of our team, but this is just one step."

Nelson finished with 16 points and two blocked shots, while the other 6-2 freshman GAC starter, Peyton Whitted, added 11 points.

Carter added five rebounds an four steals to her point total for Buford, while Williams added 12 points and nine rebounds and Alysha Rudnik chipped in eight points, seven rebounds and five steals.

And like Boyd, Durden agreed this game was just one step of what may be one -- or perhaps two -- more rounds in the Buford-GAC series this season.

"This game could help us get refocused," Durden said. "If we'd beaten GAC and then run into them again, we might have not taken them seriously or respected them. Now, we know how dangerous they are."

GAC boys 78, Buford 42

The top-ranked Spartans (21-1, 11-0) scored the first seven points of the game and cruised to the victory over the host Wolves (8-12, 5-6).

Buford tried to hang tough, trailing just 33-19 at halftime, but GAC outscored the Wolves 30-4 in the third quarter to break the game wide open.

Trent Wiedeman led the way for the Spartans with 23 points, while Paul Dawson added 16 and Elliott Long chipped in 14.

Zac Lynn was the only Buford player in double figures with 14 points.