Photo: Josh Martindale. Buford sophomore Kaela Davis (3) shoots past East Hall's Kayleigh Lunsford early in the first half of their first-round matchup on Friday night.
BUFORD — A Buford fan said before the start of the Wolves’ first round tournament game against East Hall, “This won’t be very close.”
Even a member of a local radio station added, “If Buford loses, it will be the biggest upset in the state.”
They were wrong — for a half.
The back-to-back state champs started the Class AA playoffs sloppy, slow and sluggish. Buford trailed the fourth seed from Region 8-AA by one point after two quarters. The sellout crowd was more than a little restless.
But when a champion is going for three titles in a row, they get the message when an underdog walks up and slaps them.
The Wolves allowed two points in the third quarter and pulled away to a 55-41 win.
“I didn’t think they were a No. 4 seed. I thought they were a lot better than that,” said Buford head coach Gene Durden. “We were just slow out of the gate. You can’t do that with a good team.”
It was clear when the game started that the Wolves would be bumped around and pushed by the underdogs from Hall County. Both teams used an effective full court press to force several turnovers in the first two periods (16 for Buford, 11 for East Hall).
The Wolves (25-3) only hit two field goals in the second quarter and saw their five-point first quarter lead dissolve into a 20-19 Vikings’ (17-12) advantage at halftime.
“We just didn’t come out ready to play,” said Buford’s Kaela Davis. “We just had to get our minds back to where they needed to be.”
Apparently the Wolves didn’t spend too much time readjusting said minds, especially the star sophomore’s.
Davis scored 16 of her 22 points in the second half, including a big 3-pointer to cap a 14-2 Buford run that lasted the entire third quarter. It never got closer than eight points the rest of the night.
“It’s going to help us and get us focused,” said Durden. “This is a really good first round for us to start with. We have respect for East Hall and the tradition they have.”
Once the Wolves got rid of the turnover bug, they were fine. Buford lost it just six times in the second half and shot 21-of-26 (82 percent) from the foul line, making the turnaround much easier.
Junior Andraya Carter had 16 points, while Sheresse Williams scored eight. Jazz Jenkins scored 30 to lead the Vikings.
Buford will host the Sweet 16 matchup against Pepperell or Heard County on Tuesday in the second round.
“At any given time you are beatable,” said Davis. “You can’t underestimate anyone.”