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Buford girls rally past North Oconee in furious finish

BUFORD -- Trailing North Oconee at home by six in the fourth quarter of their second-round Class AA playoff game, Buford needed a spark. Forward Kaela Davis was happy to oblige.

Davis, a junior, scored nine of her game-high 21 points in the final frantic six minutes as the three-time defending state champion Wolves (23-8) rallied to edge the gritty North Oconee Titans (25-5) 53-45 on Tuesday night to advance to the state quarterfinals.

Leading 34-32 after the third quarter, Buford quickly found itself trailing early in the fourth quarter when Titans sophomore guard Ginny Channell went on a tear. Channell reeled off the first eight points of the quarter, including two long 3-pointers, to give North Oconee a 40-34 lead with 6:10 remaining.

The Wolves were undeterred. After a Maya Dillard layup and Davis baseline jumper carved the lead to 40-38, senior point guard Andraya Carter returned to the game. Carter suffered a dislocated left shoulder during a mad scramble for a loose ball at the end of the first half,

"Her shoulder popped out and popped back in," Buford head coach Gene Durden said.

Carter promptly made her presence known with a steal and a layup for her only points of the game, tying it at 40 with 4:21 remaining. A little over a minute later, another Carter steal led to a 3-pointer by MacKenzie Darrah and gave the Wolves a 44-40 lead.

North Oconee clawed back to cut the lead to 44-43, but Davis took over from there, accounting for seven of the final nine Buford points, including going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the final two minutes.

"She made a lot of big shots and made a lot of big free throws for us," Durden said.

After Buford's easy first-round romp over Kendrick, the Titans served notice early they would not go quietly. North Oconee, led by Channell's seven points, sprinted to an 11-4 lead in the first quarter before the Wolves rallied to trail 11-10 at the end of the opening period.

With both teams playing intense defense, Buford fought back for a 21-19 halftime lead after a second quarter which featured nearly as many loose ball scrambles and floor burns as field goals.

"It was a great game," Durden said. "North Oconee deserves a lot of credit. They came into our gym prepared to play with a game plan that made us have to do a lot of things we didn't feel comfortable doing."

Darrah also scored 10 points for the Wolves.

Buford advances to the quarterfinals Friday at 7 p.m. in Dalton to face Heard County.