Staff Photo: John Bohn Buford's Isaiah Williams (1) steals the ball from Greater Atlanta Christian's Colin Swinton (5) during the third period of Friday's game.
Buford vs GAC Boys Basketball
Scenes from the Buford vs GAC boys basketball game on Jan. 13.
NORCROSS -- Both top-ranked Buford and No. 5 Greater Atlanta Christian had their respective game plans for their Region 6-AA, Division A boys showdown.
The visiting Wolves executed theirs often, but the host Spartans ultimate executed theirs more effectively, building up a double-digit lead in the third quarter before holding off Buford's fourth-quarter comeback attempt for a 54-45 win Friday at the Long Forum.
Not even the addition of A.J. Davis, who transferred to Buford from GAC in October and was ruled eligible by the Georgia High School Association earlier Friday, could stop the Spartans (12-4, 3-0) from posting their 11th straight victory over the Wolves (11-4, 4-1) dating back to 2007.
Ultimately, it was the steady play of GAC's backcourt tandem of Collin Swinton and Delano Spencer, who combined for 29 points, that led a strong team effort that turned the tide in the Spartans' favor.
"You could point to individuals," GAC coach Eddie Martin said. "But what I like to point to in that situation is just team members doing what they're capable of doing when they need to do it. I felt like that's what we did (Friday) night offensively. We shared the basketball. We moved it well."
Early on, it was Buford moving the ball well -- in particular, moving it inside to T.J. Shipes on the low block.
The 6-foot-8 Georgia State-bound senior was a force by scoring nine points in the first quarter to help the Wolves build as much a 14-10 lead after Isaiah Williams' coast-to-coast drive with 3:14 left in the opening frame.
But from that point, GAC packed their zone defense in tight and made it much more difficult for Shipes -- who finished with 16 points, 16 rebounds and two blocked shots -- to find the ball.
"We went away from what was working early," Buford coach Allen Whitehart said. "T.J. had a lot of touches early, and then, it's like we didn't get it back to him. We shot a lot of jump shots, and that's what a zone is set up for -- to make you shoot jump shots. It was a great game plan on (GAC's) part."
And after eight different lead changes over the final 17 seconds of the first quarter and first 4:03 of the second, GAC finally got its game-plan going late in the first half.
Swinton, who scored 10 of his team-high 16 points in the first half, and reserve point guard Troy Morrison helped the Spartans dictate the pace -- slowing it down in halfcourt or applying pressure to run in transition when the situation called for either -- and leading a run of six straight points over the final 3:04 of the half to send GAC into intermission with 28-23 lead.
Spencer then came out of the locker room red hot, hitting jumpers on three straight possessions -- including a 3-pointer with 5:10 left in the third quarter -- to help the Spartans build their biggest lead at 39-25 after Robert Armstrong's stickback with 4:27 left in the period.
But Kyle Kellam kick-started Buford's offense with a steal and transition layup and then a stickback in a 38-second span, which ignited a 10-2 run over the last 3:26 of the period to send the Wolves into the fourth quarter down just 41-36.
And when Payton Wehunt hit a pair of free throws to close out a 8-2 run that answered Sinton's opening driving layup, Buford had cut GAC's lead down to 45-43 with 5:59 remaining.
But Spencer drove the lane on GAC's next possession before hitting a pull-up jumper, followed by a pair of free throws from Swinton and a big dunk by Isaiah Wilkins to give the Spartans breathing room at 51-43 with 4:05 left and they put the game away in the first of what could be several meetings with Buford this season.
"There's no trophies given out (Friday) night, and there's nobody going home," Martin pointed out. "But it does give us a little bit of an advantage, at least in the region, right now."
Spencer and Wilkins added 13 points for GAC to join Swinton in double figures.
Meanwhile, Williams matched Shipes' figure of 16 points to lead Buford in scoring.
And despite the loss, Whitehart is still encouraged about the direction of his team -- especially with the addition of Davis, who struggled early, but settled down somewhat to finish with three points, seven rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and two steals.
"There was a lot of pressure (on Davis) in his first game back," said Whitehart, whose team takes on Class A power Whitefield Academy in a showcase event tonight at North Gwinnett. "He's going to be OK. He's going to settle in. He's going to fit in what we do.
"(Whitefield) is another big game for us. We set it up for that because if you're going to win a state championship, you've got to win back-to-back big games."