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Buford, GAC boys 'find a way' into the Region 6-AA title game

DECATUR -- With Isaiah Williams trying to rest a sore hip, T.J. Shipes saddled with early foul trouble and Kyle Kellam shaken up with a twisted ankle, Buford was looking for a hero in its Region 6-AA tournament semifinal game with South Atlanta.

The No. 6 state-ranked Wolves found one in A.J. Davis, who scored a career-high 32 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to help lift Buford to a 61-53 victory Friday night at Decatur High School.

After sitting out the first 14 games of the season awaiting to be declared eligible following his transfer from Greater Atlanta Christian in October, the 6-foot-8 senior has slowly raised his comfort level with his new teammates over the past month.

That comfort level reached a new high Friday as Davis provided the punch Buford (20-6) needed to advance to tonight's 6:30 championship game against Greater Atlanta Christian.

"I was just doing what I had to do," said Davis, who also handed out three assists and added a blocked shot on the evening. "I've just been slowly adjusting to the team. I've been practicing with them the whole year, but game-like situations are totally different. I just wanted to slowly step in and do my part."

Davis was sorely needed, especially after Shipes went to the bench with his second personal foul less than three minutes into the game.

And he responded by scoring 18 of Buford's 30 first-half points to help the Wolves take slim 30-26 lead into intermission.

But he would need some help in the second half as a relentless South Atlanta (21-6) team refused to go away behind the effort of Naquavious King, who led the Hornets with 24 points and added six rebounds.

Matters got even tighter for Buford after Kellam, who dished out a game-high six assists, was temporarily forced to the bench after twisting an ankle in the third quarter.

Shortly thereafter, Buford coach Allen Whitehart inserted Williams into the game for the first time to help with the team's ball-handling.

And it appeared to work as the Wolves took as much as a seven-point lead three different times in the period, the last at 41-34 after Davis' transition layup with 38.9 seconds left in the quarter.

But South Atlanta still hung around, trailing just 41-36 at the end of the quarter after Terrance Lindley's layup with 22 seconds left in the period.

And the Hornets began the fourth quarter with a 10-3 run to take as much as a 46-44 lead floating jumper that banked off the backboard with 4:22 remaining.

However, Davis began to take over again, first grabbing a defensive rebound and sending a long outlet pass to Coby Durden, who scored the layup and completed the three-point play after being fouled to put Buford back on top for good at 47-46 with 2:54 remaining.

Davis added a pair of free throws and a baseline jumper over the next 1:14 to push the lead to 51-46 with 1:48 left.

Freed from the shackles of foul trouble, Shipes, who finished the game with 12 points and eight rebounds, then helped put the game away.

First, the 6-8 Georgia State signee grabbed on offensive rebound off a missed Davis free throw and got fouled before hitting two free throws, and then he slammed home a thunderous dunk off a pass from Kellam to cap an 8-0 run that left the Wolves with their biggest lead at 57-47 with 32.3 seconds left.

"We talked about the fact that at this time of year, you've got to put it on the line ... and gut it out," Whitehart said. "We didn't falter when we were down in the fourth quarter. ... That's a testament to my kids."

GAC 48, Decatur 47

Down by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter, the top-seeded and No. 2 state-ranked Spartans (22-5) kept chipping away in the final minutes.

Finally, Collin Swinton slithered his way through the Decatur defense and into the lane for a layup that just beat the buzzer to rescue GAC and send the Spartans into tonight's title game against Buford.

"When you get to this point, you just find a way to get it done," GAC coach Eddie Martin said. "It doesn't matter if it's pretty or ugly. Just find a way to win. Those kids showed a lot of heart, a lot of character and a lot of determination. We had plenty of opportunities to fold our tent, but they didn't do it."

The Spartans benefited from poor free throw shooting by Decatur as the Bulldogs (13-14) hit just 4 of 12 from the line in the fourth quarter.

Swinton finished with 12 points, while Delano Spencer led GAC with 13 points.

Decatur's Desmond Tuft scored 18 points to lead all scorers.