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BUFORD (GA) – The Lanier Longhorns and Buford Wolves already had a pair of tightly contested games this season and a third one came with little surprise.
Following a one-point loss to the Wolves in the regular season, the Longhorns avoided being stunned at the buzzer and earned a 74-72 thrilling win in the semifinals of the Region 8-AAAAAA tournament at Buford Arena on February 19.
Lanier senior Andrew McConnell (24 points) and Buford junior Alahn Sumler (25 points), who both wear the jersey No. 0, put on a shooting clinic from the arc by knocking down six 3-pointers apiece. Even though McConnell scored 18 of his points in the fourth quarter and left the floor with that winning feeling, Sumler was a kind bounce from changing the outcome.
With 6.6 seconds left, Caleb Blackwell (eight points, six assists, five rebounds) received the inbounds pass and drove baseline before passing to Sumler, who was briefly open in the corner before McConnell contested the shot which rimmed out as time expired.
“When he goes to square that thing up you just know we are about to lose by one,” said Lanier coach Branden Mayweather of Sumler. “He shot the lights out all game. It feels like time almost stops–slow motion watching that thing come off and okay it missed then get a rebound and hear that horn sound so I’m proud of the guys.”
During the final minutes of the fourth when McConnell was still on a roll offensively, he converted a layup in traffic to tie the score at 68 after completing a Eurostep move that would make professionals proud. Then with 1:14 to go, he drilled a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the corner for a 71-68 edge. With under a minute left, McConnell also made two free throws and had a critical deflection against Blackwell which led to a steal by Tahai Morgan.
“Andrew McConnell is special,” Mayweather said. “That is the reason why he is a Division-I recruit and big-time players show up in big-time games. When we needed him he was there and we need him about seven, eight more times this season and we can get what we really want.”
Senoir Iajah Phillips scored 15 points and freshman Jayce Nathaniel added 12 for Lanier, which will play Shiloh in the region championship game.
“Everybody wants to be able to win a region championship and we made it to state and now you want to win the region so I’m just proud of the guys because it’s so much time and effort that goes into it,” Mayweather said. “They deserve it. I’m proud of the way they worked and they earned it.”
In the second quarter, the Wolves trailed by seven before putting together a 15-3 run which led to a 39-36 advantage at halftime. Senior Marc Mauge (15 points), sophomore London Williams (11 points), junior Jaylon Taylor (10 points) and Blackwell all contributed during the scoring surge.
“Buford is a really good team,” Mayweather said. “You see the reason why Eddie Martin has got all the championships he’s got because he kept putting them in situations that put pressure on us.”