Buford’s bench reacts in the final minutes during Saturday’s Class AAA boys basketball final at the Macon Centreplex. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
MACON – They’ll soon forget this one in Buford.
Armed with a red-hot shooting guard in Tookie Brown and playing in front of a large and boisterous red-clad crowd, Morgan County was simply unstoppable as the Bulldogs blasted Buford 69-45 in the Class AAA boys’ basketball state championship Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.
Brown, a verbal commitment to Mississippi State, had all the answers as the junior poured in a game-high 36 points on 14 of 25 shooting and never let off the gas pedal in Morgan County’s convincing win.
Brown added seven rebounds, passed out six assists and had five steals in a solid all-around performance to lead Morgan County to its first boys state championship.
The two teams had split in the regular season with Morgan County winning 76-65 on Nov. 26 and Buford returning the favor on Feb. 1 with a 69-58 victory.
But on this night, it was all Morgan County.
Unfortunately, Buford also found the Centreplex to be an unfriendly place again as the Wolves lost to Greater Atlanta Christian 76-36 in the Class AA title game in 2011.
“(Morgan County) got rolling early and I thought we were really out of sync,” said Buford head coach Allen Whitehart. “I felt like we never got comfortable early and then you don’t have the opportunity to get comfortable early when you’re behind. I felt like once they got that cushion, they were able to dictate how the game was played.”
Brown had 24 points at the half, including 11 in the opening quarter when Morgan County raced out to a 20-5 lead and never looked back.
Buford, seeking its first-ever boys state crown, did lead once at 2-1, but perhaps a message was sent right there when Jailyn Ingram threw down a thunderous slam on an offensive rebound for Morgan County that made it 3-2 and the Bulldogs were in front to stay.
From there, Morgan County outscored Buford 17-3 in a quarter when the Wolves turned it over 10 times and simply couldn’t get into the flow of the game on either end of the court.
“We had 10 turnovers in the first quarter,” said Whitehart. “When you do that, it’s hard to be in a basketball game. I felt like that really handicapped us.”
The second quarter was more of the same as Morgan County never allowed Buford to get any closer than 13 at 25-12 with 5:20 left in the first half.
Once that happened, Morgan County outscored Buford 12-6 to finish out the opening half and went to the locker rooms with a 37-18 lead.
In the second half, Morgan County stayed on the gas pedal as the Bulldogs pushed the advantage to 25 at 52-27 heading to the fourth quarter.
Brown, who played all but the final minute when Morgan County cleared the bench, continued to build on his impressive game in the third quarter by adding another eight points to the scoring column.
“He played extremely well,” said Whitehart of Brown. “Kudos to (Morgan County) and him. They played a great game.”
Meanwhile, Morgan County (26-5) was still shutting down the Buford offense, forcing turnovers that led to easy baskets for the Bulldogs on the other end as Morgan County led by as many as 28 a pair of times in the fourth quarter.
“Our basketball team was starving,” said Morgan County head coach Charlemagne Gibbons. “Our guys were starving. So to get this opportunity coming out of the gate, this team was not going to be denied. We were just a hungry bunch of guys and a hungry community wanting to win a championship.”
Brown’s supporting cast included senior C.J. Turman, the 6-8 Tennessee commitment who scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Turman also neutralized Buford’s Rakim Lubin, who had been a dominating force for the Wolves in the four tournament games.
Lubin led Buford with a double-double that included 12 points and 12 rebounds, but went just 4-for-12 from the field and 3-for-5 from the free throw line.
D’Marcus Simonds also struggled for Buford as the sophomore had just six points and six rebounds while committing nine turnovers, including six in the opening quarter.
Simonds finished 3 of 8 from the field that included just one missed three-point attempt.
Justin Edwards added eight points, including two three-pointers, for Buford (27-6).
As a team, Buford shot 36 percent from the field as the Wolves went 18-for-50.
Buford also struggled to get to the free throw line as the Wolves hit just 3 of 5 for the game, all by Lubin.