Scenes from Buford vs. Lanier boys basketball on Tuesday night. (Photo: David McGregor)

BUFORD — With Gwinnett County Public Schools shifting to parents only allowed in the stands at high school basketball games, Lanier’s students took advantage of an opportunity Tuesday night.

The Longhorns’ Region 8-AAAAAA games were played just up the road at Buford City Arena, and a good-sized cheering section made plenty of noise behind the visiting bench in the Lanier boys’ 66-60 win over host Buford. It was Lanier’s first visit to the arena since last year’s Class AAAAAA semifinal victory.

Both sides brought a nice crowd to the spacious arena, which isn’t limited to 150 people like GCPS gyms because of COVID-19 protocols.

“It was cool (to have fans),” Lanier boys coach Branden Mayweather said. “You take it for granted. A year ago when we were here, I feel like there were kids from (the court) to the top row. Even the little bit we had here tonight was great. I think the kids deserve it. They work so hard. It’s great to be able to have the students come out.”

Those fans saw a back-and-forth game that has become typical of loaded 8-AAAAAA, which features Lanier (14-3, 6-0) and Buford (12-4, 3-2), as well as Shiloh (5-1 in the region) and Dacula (3-2 in the region).

Lanier’s largest lead was eight points, and Buford’s biggest was five as the scoreboard stayed close for much of the night before the Longhorns pulled out their eighth straight win.

“It’s brutal. You look at the matchups and there’s nobody easy,” Mayweather said of the region. “We played Habersham and we won by two. Nobody is easy. We’ve got to play every night. … It was a weird game and it’s hard to play here. It’s so big and so many of these guys it’s new to them, but our guys gutted it out and made enough stops late. It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done.”

Buford started well and led 20-15 after a quarter, but Lanier battled back for a two-point halftime lead. It was still a one-point game in the waning seconds of the third quarter when the Longhorns’ C.J. Hyland (eight points) beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer and extended his team’s lead to 48-44 entering the fourth quarter.

Lanier rode that momentum to four straight points to open the fourth, building its largest lead at eight points. Buford got within a single possession just once from that point — with 4:55 left — but couldn’t find enough offense down the stretch to challenge the lead.

“We were starting a freshman, two or three others are in the rotation, and it’s their first time being here (in this arena),” Mayweather said. “And then it’s Buford. It’s the first time we’ve played Buford and the first time we’ve been able to win against Buford.”

Makai Vassell had 20 points and eight rebounds to lead Lanier, and Andrew McConnell had 13 points (eight in the first quarter). Vassell made 7 of 8 free throws in the fourth quarter to hold Buford off.

Iajah Phillips added nine points, three rebounds and three assists in the win, and Jayce Nathaniel had six points and eight rebounds. Lanier also had 18 bench points.

Jaylon Taylor led Buford with 17 points and eight rebounds, while London Williams (eight points, nine rebounds), Caleb Blackwell (13 points, four assists, three rebounds), Marc Mauge (11 points) and Alahn Sumler (eight points, four rebounds) also played well for the Wolves.

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