Staff Photo: John Bohn Buford's TJ Shipes (15) dunks the ball while Greater Atlanta Christian School's Cole Hobbs (10) can only watch during the first half of Tuesday's game.
BUFORD -- When the teams walked off the court at the end of the third quarter, imagining the game coming down to free throws seemed foolish.
GAC had built a lead as big as 20 points in the quarter and led 58-40. The Spartans did not allow Buford a field goal as they broke open a two-point halftime game, led by 10 points from Collin Swinton and a 3-pointer each from Cole Hobbs and Cam Boyd. GAC forced six Buford turnovers and the Wolves scored their six points all at the free-throw line. GAC scored 22.
But Buford shook off its malaise at the start of the fourth, hitting two quick baskets and over the next seven minutes chipped the lead down to five when Brad Mapes hit a 3-pointer.
Suddenly a 20-point lead was three with 30 seconds left in the game and the large home Buford crowd turned up the volume.
Delano Spencer shut it out.
Over the final 25.9 seconds, he went 6 of 6 from the free throw line, the first two trips adding the pressure of 1-and-1 situations, and No. 4 GAC hung on for a 74-70 win, sweeping the season series with No. 6 Buford.
"It was very intense," he said. "It was just practice. We practice pressure free throws."
But not like these. Not fending off a talented Buford team at home. But as each one dropped, he knew the next one would.
"Confidence built up," Spencer said.
"We got over a hump. We played really well as a team. This is a big win, a huge win."
Spencer ended the game with 20 points and was 7 of 8 from the line. He was one of four Spartans in double figures. Swinton ended the game with 15, Robert Armstrong scored 14, including six in the fourth quarter, and Cole Hobbs scored 13 with three 3s.
Until the third quarter created the needed separation for GAC to hang on and win, the game began as a battle of equals.
Buford rode 10 first-quarter points from Kyle Kellam to a 19-13 lead. Kellam cooled off, but ended the game with 16 points. An even second quarter ended with a well designed inbound play with a tip pass from GAC's Isaiah Wilkins to Andrew Lewis at the buzzer to give the Spartans a 36-34 lead.
For Buford, Isaiah Williams led the way with 19 points, including 7 of 8 from the free throw line and A.J. Davis added 14 points and 10 rebounds.
With the Region 6-AA tournament beginning next week, there is a chance of another meeting of these two teams, something Spencer relishes.
"I love it," he said. "It's GAC-Buford. It's a rivalry. I love it."