The Spencer basketball team came off the court after the third quarter of its game against Rabun County in the first round of the Class AA playoffs on Wednesday with eyes wide and heads hanging.
The 18-point lead it had attained with a bucket to open the second half was gone. Now, it trailed by a point, and the modest collection of Rabun County fans were louder than ever.
Weaker players than Spencer’s may have wilted under the pressure the team faced at that moment. Instead, Greenwave guards Sean Buffen and Deandre Hubbard started the fourth trading three-pointers, one for Hubbard and two for Buffen. Spencer’s lead was back to eight and momentum on its side as it went on to win 70-58.
“Coach (Walter Jackson) just told us to keep our heads,” said Buffen, who finished with 26 points in the game. “Basketball is a game of runs, and we just calmed down and got ourselves back together.”
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With the win, Spencer advances to the second round for the first time since 2010, where it will face Greater Atlanta Christian, which defeated Coosa, on Saturday.
The Greenwave (17-9) took control of the game with a dominant second quarter in which it outscored Rabun County (15-12) 19-7 to build a 16-point lead at the break. During the quarter, Spencer went on a 13-0 run led by Buffen and Hubbard, who scored 11 of the 13 points.
Buffen knocked down a jumper to open the third quarter, but that’s when things began to get interesting.
Rabun County scored 16 of the game’s next 18 points, making the score 39-35, and drew Hubbard’s fourth foul with five minutes, 34 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Buffen knocked down a couple of jumpers to make the lead seven again, but Rabun County’s Josh McDaniel knocked down a pair of three-pointers and Jonathan Poole ended the quarter with another three, giving the Wildcats a one-point lead after three.
“Hats off to those guys,” Spencer coach Walter Jackson said of Rabun County’s performance. “They fought hard. That’s a credit to them.”
Credit goes to Spencer, too, for maintaining its composure. After regaining the lead and extending it to eight points, it played smart basketball, draining the clock, playing solid defense and taking the ball to the rim.
“We just stuck to the game plan,” Jackson said. “We had to get back to what got us the 18-point lead in the first place: pressuring the basketball, pushing the ball down the court and getting to the basket.”
With the win in hand and the poor third quarter in the past, both Jackson and his players agreed that being tested in this game wasn’t the worst thing in the world. After all, potential powerhouses loom in the coming rounds for the Greenwave.
“It was really important,” said Hubbard, who finished with 14 points. “It was a big test. Later on down the line, we’ll need that.”
“It tells you what you’re made of,” Jackson agreed. “Most important thing is to enjoy the win tonight and then get back to work.”
Jordan Oliver led Rabun County with 22 points in the game. McDaniel was second on the team with 14.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports
Wednesday at Spencer
Rabun County 12 7 28 10—58
Spencer 16 19 12 23—70
Rabun County (58)
Oliver 22, McDaniel 14, Poole 9, Scott 7, Coin 5, DiNofrio 1.
Buffen 26, Hubbard 14, English 10, Davis 6, Denson 6, Bush 6, Langston 2.
Records: Rabun County, 15-12; Spencer, 17-9. Next: Rabun County, season over; Spencer, Saturday vs. GAC.