PEACHTREE CORNERS — There is seldom a dull moment whenever the Wesleyan and Buford girls basketball teams square off, and while points were relatively scarce in the latest matchups, there was plenty of action.
The host Wolves (Wesleyan) got plenty of it during a big third quarter run, led by the aggressiveness of Avyonce Carter and hot shooting from guards Lauren Hill and Lanni Brown, while the visiting Wolves (Buford) used their trademark press and veteran leadership of Tate Walters and Ashiya Willis to mount a fourth-quarter comeback.
In the end, however, Wesleyan gathered itself and found just enough openings in the press to hold on for a 45-43 victory, and break Buford’s 34-game winning streak dating back to last season Saturday at Yancey Gymnasium.
Carter finished with a game-high 16 points and 10 rebounds, plus two blocked shots, while Alyssa Phillips finished just short of a double-double with 13 points and nine boards to go with our blocks.
But it was the intangibles Wesleyan (17-4) coach Carolyn Whitney was most impressed with as her Wolves survived an intense defensive battle.
“(The game) must made us tougher,” said Whitney, whose team avenged a one-point loss to Buford in the Dacula Tip-Off Classic during Thanksgiving week. “(Buford’s) girls, every single year, they fight hard, and you know it’s going to be a battle.”’
Buford (22-1) got the better of the battle during a tough first half, but led just 20-17 despite a big rebounding edge and creating several turnovers.
And in the third quarter, Wesleyan made a pair of adjustments that combined to help the hosts grab momentum.
The first was simply hitting the defensive glass better to limit Buford’s second-chance opportunities.
“We really did a good job on the boards in the second half,” Whitney said. “Not the first half, but we did make that adjustment. And we worked well together, and we just did better with all the little things.”
A second adjustment began when Wesleyan’s guards began to knock down open looks from the perimeter.
Hill and Brown connected from behind the 3-point arc on consecutive possessions to start the third quarter to vault Wesleyan into the lead at 23-20 just 1:37 into the second half.
The better shooting touch by the guards opened things up for Carter to become more aggressive in taking the ball in the basket to draw fouls and get to the free-throw line.
The Georgia Tech-bound senior went 2-for-2 on a pair of those opportunity, while Hill and Brown added another 3-pointer each to lead an 18-3 run the ended with Carter’s foul line jumper that gave Wesleyan its biggest lead of the game at 35-23 with 1:16 left in the quarter.
“In the first half, we kind of settled for 3s, and we weren’t hitting,” Carter said. “So Coach (Whitney) talked to us during halftime and told us to get inside, penetrate and kick (the ball) out for the open shooter and get better shots, and that’s what we did. We attacked more.”
But after Willis and Walters finally broke the ice to help cut the deficit to nine at 37-28 by the end of the third quarter, Buford began to gain confidence early in the final frame.
A pair of Willis free throws, a stickback and a free throw by Abbi Perkins and a midrange jumper from Walters combined with the final bucket by Walters in the third quarter for a 10-0 run that pulled Buford as close as 37-35 with 5:36 remaining.
Carter answered with a three-point play and two more free throws to stretch the Wesleyan lead back to 42-35 with 2:42, but Buford had one more run left in it, and began amped up its fullcourt trap to ignite it.
Turnovers and defensive rebounds helped get Buford on the run, And Tatum Ozment and Willis helped pull Buford back to within a point at 42-41 on Willis’ layup with 1:36 left.
A bucket by Phillip off a nifty feed from Paige Lyons with 1:03 left pushed the lead back to three at 44-41, but after a missed 1-and-1 opportunity by Wesleyan, Buford answered with two free throws from Blair Wallis with 6.8 second left to make it 44-43, and give the defense a chance to set up and try to create a turnover.
But some quick passes helped break the press, and by the time Buford was able to foul, there was only 0:00.2 left on the clock.
That left Buford with not enough time to even get a shot off after Phillip made 1 of 2 free throws for the final margin.
But despite being handed the teams first loss since falling to Westlake just over a year ago on Jan. 19 2019, coach Gene Durden was left with only positive takeaways.
“In games like this, nobody (really) loses,” Durden said. “I know we lost the game, but we got exposed to some things we need to work on to make our run to the (Class AAAAA state) tournament. There’s nothing bad about this game that we take away from it.”
While Carter and Phillip were the only two Wesleyan players in double figures, Hill and Brown each added eight points, while Lyons made up for being held scoreless by dishing out a game-high five assists, while Hill added four helpers.
Willis led Buford with 12 points, six assists and four steals, while Walters added 10 points and five rebounds, and Ozment chipped in six points and six boards.