Early lead not enough for Buford girls in Class AAA state basketball championship loss to St. Pius X

Buford walks off the court after being defeated by St. Pius 48-45 during Saturday’s Class AAA girls basketball final at the Macon Centreplex. (Photo: Kyle Hess)

Buford walks off the court after being defeated by St. Pius 48-45 during Saturday’s Class AAA girls basketball final at the Macon Centreplex. (Photo: Kyle Hess)

MACON — Buford couldn’t have asked for a better start to its Class AAA state girls basketball championship game against St. Pius X, and the fourth quarter wasn’t bad either.

It was the middle two quarters the Wolves would just as soon forget about.

The Golden Lions outscored them 32-14 in the two middle frames to turn around what had been a big early Buford lead, and then held off a late Wolves charge to take their second straight state title with a 48-45 win Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.

Asia Durr and former Mill Creek standout Jasmine Carter combined for 35 of St. Pius’ (30-3) points to help thwart Buford’s (30-3) attempt for their first state title in three years.

“We knew Durr and Carter were going to do a good job of trying to take over,” Buford coach Gene Durden said. “We just gave them too many open looks. We knew we had to run them up to the 3-point line to keep them from getting going. And when they did, they’re great players. They made great plays.”

But early on, Buford did a did an excellent job of keeping Durr, Carter and the rest of the Golden Lions in check.

In fact, the Wolves’ domination of the first quarter was about as complete as it could be, particularly on the defensive end, where they held St. Pius X scoreless until Durr hit 1 of 2 free throws with 2:24 left.

In the interim, Buford got a boost from Tara Dambach, who hustled her way to five points and three rebounds to jump out to a big early lead.

And when Camille Anderson drained a 3-pointer from the left wing with 47 seconds left in the opening frame, the Wolves had a whopping 15-1 lead.

The lead could’ve been bigger as it appeared Anderson had answered Obi Okafor’s layup by bouncing a 3-pointer off the front rim and in as the quarter came to an end.

But the official ruled the the shot came after buzzer had sounded, keeping Buford’s lead at a still solid 15-3.

However, Durr and Jasmine Carter began to heat up in the second quarter.

“We kind of got the cobwebs out (in the second quarter),” said Durr, who finished with a game-high 23 points, plus five rebounds. “We started out slow. The shots weren’t falling, (but) we stayed confident.”

The duo combined for 17 points in the period, and when Durr knocked down the last of her three 3-pointers in the quarter with 46 seconds left in the half, St. Pius X had their first lead of the game at 23-21, which it took into intermission.

“We came out, we thought, with a solid game plan,” Durden said. “The first quarter, we knew playing at the Macon Centreplex was going to be a little rough on the shooting. … You can’t turn it over in the open floor against kids like Carter and Durr, and that’s what they did a great job with (in the second quarter).”

St. Pius X built its lead to as much as eight points three separate times in the third quarter, the last time at 35-27 following a 3-pointer by Miah Allen with 1:30 left in the period.

But that’s when Buford began to show a little comeback ability of its own.

Anderson scored off an in-bound pass from Taylor Ozment to beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter, pulling the Wolves to within 35-29 heading into the fourth.

Then early in the final frame, Corey Staples, who has struggled much of the first three quarters, finally began to find her footing, scoring a pair of field goals and hitting 1 of 2 free throws during a 7-2 run.

And when Bree Horrocks finished the run with a stickback, the Wolves were suddenly within 37-36 with 4:08 to play.

Durr and Carter helped push the lead back to seven at 45-38 by connecting on eight straight free throws over the next 2:04 to counter another Horrocks stickback, but Buford had one more surge lift in it after switching to a full-court trap on defense.

The switch confused St. Pius X enough to force a pair of turnovers, which Anderson and Staples eventually turned into field goals that pulled the Wolves back to within one possession again at 45-42 with with 1:37 left.

They got as close as 47-45 after a turnaround jumper from Horrocks, who had six of her 13 points in the fourth quarter, with just 14.2 seconds remaining, prompting Buford to take its final timeout.

And the Wolves got one more chance when Carter, who made three of St. Pius X’s 11 fourth-quarter free throws on 15 attempts, missed the back end of two shots with 9.5 seconds remaining.

But down three points, a long pass attempt to Horrocks from near halfcourt was knocked away, and Allen came away with the loose ball and was fouled with two-tenths of a second remaining, rendering her two free throw misses on the other end moot, as Chandler Hall only had time to rebound the second miss before the clock ran out on Buford.

Carter was the only St. Pius X player joining Durr in double figures with 12 points, while Allen added nine on three clutch 3-pointers.

Anderson had 14 points to lead Buford, while Horrocks had seven rebounds, two blocked shots and four steals to go along with her points, and Dambach chipped in six points, six rebounds and two assists.