Cartersville showed it belonged in that class, but could not pull out the victory in the fourth quarter and fell to the Wolves 80-73 at Buford High to end the Canes’ season at 27-3.
“For us to play an elite team on their home court, it is extremely disappointing. It could have gone either way” Cartersville head coach Mike Tobin said. “I’m totally proud of my kids. They’re amazing kids. It has to end some time. I’m just extremely disappointed that it’s done.”
Ultimately, Cartersville could not contain 6-foot-8, 250-pound Rakim Lubin underneath. The Connecticut commit finished with 35 points and 11 rebounds.
“What cost us there in the second half was I thought the big kid could do anything he wanted. There were some calls that I was hoping to get. I think that was the difference in the game,” Tobin said. “The scouting report on him was to make him put the ball on the floor. It seems like he was in there for the whole time on pretty much every possession. We played it about as well as we could.”
Lubin scored 19 second-half points and grabbed seven rebounds. However, the standout player in the fist half was Cartersville’s Corey Tobin. Tobin hit seven 3s in the first half and had 24 points in that span. Tobin was able to get lose off screens, but also hit three stepback 3s, two from at least 25 feet out.
His four 3s and Ryan Davis’ eight points in the second quarter helped propel Cartersville to a 44-35 halftime lead.
Cartersville’s defense was another reason the Canes took the halftime lead. Setting up in an aggressive matchup zone, Buford was forced into eight turnovers in the second quarter. The turnovers led to some easy baskets for Cartersville, but also prevented offensive rebounding opportunities for Lubin.
Lubin had just four points and zero rebounds in the period, which Cartersville outscored Buford by a count of 30-17. Lubin picked up three fouls in the first half, limiting his presence as a rebounder and shotblocker, and forcing him to the bench with a little less than three minutes remaining in the half.
“What we were trying to do was get him in foul trouble,” Tobin said.
Hakeem Winters was the Cane who was the most effective at drawing foul’s on the Buford big man. Winters drove to the basket and forced a foul two minutes prior to taking a charge, which ultimately earned Lubin his third foul.
However, Cartersville also found itself in foul trouble. Canes center Hunter Benham picked up three fouls as did Bryce Gober, who was often helping Benham defend Lubin.
In the second half, Buford came out strong, drawing the nine-point halftime lead down to three after 3 1/2 minutes. Buford’s other highly sought-after college recruit, D’Marcus Simonds, started to catch fire and get to the rim. He scored 10 points in the third quarter to help his team cut the lead.
“You have to tip your hat to Buford,” Tobin said. “They came out in the second half and played great offensively.”
Buford eventually tied the game with three minutes left in the third quarter, but Cartersville was able to hold off the Wolves until the end of the period and led 58-54 after three.
In the fourth quarter, Benham and Gober fouled out within 30 seconds of one another with six minutes remaining in the game
“Foul trouble obviously hurt us,” Tobin said.
Cartersville’s defense had trouble stopping Lubin in the final quarter. Buford went on a 9-1 run to open the fourth quarter and take a 63-59 advantage.
“We missed a few shots that we normally make,” Tobin said. “We probably missed seven or eight layups that we should have made.”
Despite the deficit, Davis refused to let Cartersville fade away. He matched Buford’s talent shot for shot while attacking the rim with strong finishes and floaters on occasion. He had 11 of Cartersville’s 15 fourth-quarter points.
In the final quarter, the Canes found themselves down by six points with 5:12 remaining. Davis then scored and Tobin followed the score with one of his own off of a steal by Winters.
Tobin’s basket gave him 30 points on the night and brought Cartersville within two points with 2:35 left.
Winters poked the ball away on the next possession as well and Cartersville took over with a chance to tie or take the lead.
However, during a dead ball, a Cartersville player was called for a technical foul. Buford’s Simonds hit both technical free throws to give the Wolves a four-point lead and they retained possession.
Davis and Simonds would exchange baskets on each team’s next possession. Simonds then stole the ball and went the other way to draw a flagrant foul on a Cartersville defender with just over a minute remaining.
Simonds would make both free throws to give Buford a six-point lead, but the Wolves would not score on their next possession.
Davis scored with 32 second left to bring the Canes back within four, but Buford would make 9-of-11 free throws down the stretch to seal the game.
“All the guys, I felt, gave 100 percent,” Tobin said. “We played about as well as we could. It’s just disappointing.”
Davis finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds for Cartersville. Simonds matched him with 27 for Buford.