Photo: David McGregor Buford's Kyle Doyle gets fouled by Woodward's Soloman Mangham while attempting a dunk in the second quarter of the Wolves victory in the quarterfinals of the AAA State Tournament on Wednesday.
BUFORD -- When the final rebound found the hands of Coby Durden, the Buford senior took two dribbles, tossed the ball downcourt and ran toward his home bench hugging the nearest teammate he could find.
It was the final game at home for Durden and the Buford seniors who beat Woodward Academy 60-53 Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA state boys basketball tournament.
"It was exciting," Durden said of the final moments of the win. "It was a great feeling knowing all the hard work we put in throughout the year. It paid off.
"But we're still not done."
The Wolves advance to play Savannah on Saturday at Armstrong State in Savannah in the Final Four, a long trip, but one worth taking. And a confident Buford team should arrive down south after the battle it overcame Wednesday.
Woodward looked in control of the tempo of the game early on, forcing Buford into tough shots and 10 first-half turnovers. While the Wolves struggled to make shots around the rim, Kyle Doyle kept the game tight, scoring eight of his 10 points in the first quarter and grabbing nine of his 13 rebounds. Most of his baskets came on put-backs at the rim, cleaning up missed shots.
"Hustle points. That's what he's done all year," Buford head coach Allen Whitehart said. "I tell any coach that calls about him, 'You aren't going to have to run anything for him, he's just going to go get it.' He's a junkyard dog."
Woodward's Benji Russell nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer of the second quarter to put the War Eagles up 24-20 at halftime, a modest lead the Wolves took comfort in during the break.
"We were playing their game. Through the first half I felt like they controlled the tempo and kept us where they wanted," Whitehart said. "To be down four as bad as we played and the way they controlled the first half, I was pretty happy."
Buford shot out of the break, ripping off a 13-3 run and building a third-quarter lead as big as seven points. Point guard Isaiah Williams, who scored just two points in the first half, started to get rolling scoring six and Durden went off for nine of his 13 points.
"I was just trying to be really aggressive," said Durden who used Woodward's attention on Williams and A.J. Davis to his advantage. "It worked out."
But back came Woodward, making it a three-point game heading into the fourth quarter, 41-38.
"That's a good basketball team. This team is really, really good," Whitehart said of the top seed from Region 6-AAA. "They are well-coached. They are good."
With less than four minutes to go in the game, Buford gave up its lead when Solomon Mangham knocked down a pair of free throws to make it 49-48 Woodward. But Durden answered with a pair of his own and after a Woodward 3-pointer by Russell, Davis drew a foul and hit the free throw to regain the Wolves' lead at 53-52. Davis and Williams led the Wolves with 15 points apiece.
With the game still tight, Durden missed the front end of a one-and-one, but made up for it by taking a charge, which set up a Brad Mapes 3-pointer on the next possession to extend the Wolves lead and from there it was Williams knocking down free throws.
"He's our glue-guy. I've said it from square one," Whitehart said of Durden. "That's what we talk about family and selfish sacrifice. Everybody steps up when they need to and they do what they do in their role."
"It's exciting, you don't know who can go off any night," Durden said.