Buford’s Justin Edwards (3) shoots over North Murray’s Noah Allen (23) during Friday’s game. (Photo: Craig Cappy)
BUFORD — Matt McMorris’ long stays on the bench weren’t ideal, but they couldn’t slow down the Buford boys basketball team in a first-round mismatch.
The host Wolves overcame a night of foul trouble from their point guard and rolled to a 68-34 victory over North Murray in their Class AAA state playoff opener.
“I’m excited for the kids,” Buford head coach Allen Whitehart said. “We played well as a team. If we keep playing well, we’ve got exciting opportunities down the road.”
Buford (24-5) got points from nine players and a big game from D’Marcus Simonds to offset the loss of Morris, who played sparingly and didn’t score.
The main cog offensively was Simonds, who had seven of his game-high nine assists in the first half. He stepped up his own scoring in the final two quarters, scoring 13 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, including 11 in the third quarter.
“He’s playing well for us,” Whitehart said of Simonds. “He’s our region player of the year as a sophomore for a reason. If he can continue to do that, the big fella (Rakim Lubin) can continue to eat down low and the other kids can fill their roles, I feel like we have a chance to do some cool things down the stretch.”
Lubin, a Connecticut signee, had a solid game with 13 points, six rebounds and three blocks and Taylor Mills scored 12 points on four 3-pointers. Montgomery VanGorder contributed eight points off the bench, while fellow reserve Justin Edwards also played well.
Edwards stepped in at point guard for McMorris and had six points and three assists.
“Justin Edwards was one of our senior leaders coming into the season and he broke his ankle,” Whitehart said. “He’s back and he came in and gave us great minutes.”
North Murray (15-12) gave Buford a tough time for much of the first quarter, but it faded in the closing minutes as the Wolves went on an 11-0 run and opened up an 18-7 lead entering the second quarter. Lubin had two baskets during the run and Keyton Gibson added one of his four steals for a transition basket.
Lubin scored seven more points in the second quarter and Buford cruised into halftime with a 39-13 lead. The advantage grew to as large as 38 points at the end of the third quarter on Simonds’ deep 3-pointer as time expired. The 60-22 edge allowed Buford’s reserves to play the bulk of the second quarter.
The dominating victory wasn’t perfect, though, so Whitehart is looking for more improvement from a team that has the potential for a state title run.
“I feel like we’ve got a lot of stuff to improve on if we want to continue what we’re doing and move on in the tournament,” Whitehart said. “We need to be cleaner on our sets. We need to share the ball a little better than we’re doing. I think our rotation sometimes gets stagnant when we get a lead. We need to keep playing at a high level even when we’re well ahead. Those are some things we need to fix. If we can do that, we’ll be a tough out.”
Noah Allen led North Murray with 10 points.