MILLEDGEVILLE - The Callaway Cavaliers finally met their match.
After vanquishing their first three opponents in the Class AAA state tournament, the Cavaliers found themselves matched up against the Buford Wolves in the final four on Saturday at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
The Cavaliers did a terrific job of getting back into the game after a tough start, but in the end it was the Wolves advancing to the state-championship game with a 92-76 victory.
It was nonetheless a successful season for the Cavaliers (22-7), and the future is bright with so many gifted players returning.
“I am very proud of them. They overcame a lot. They did a good job,” Callaway coach Terry Hayes said. “We started one senior, two sophomores, one freshman and one junior. I’m proud of those kids.”
The Cavaliers had a difficult time finding their offensive range early, and with two minutes left in the first half they only had 11 points and they trailed by as many as 23 points in the second period.
“We missed our first five or six shots, and it snowballed after that,” Hayes said.
The Cavaliers fought back to get within 16 at the half, and they got as close as eight points in the third period.
Behind senior post player Rakim Lubin, though, Buford was able to pull away for the win.
Lubin, who led all players with 37 points, had 19 points in the fourth period.
D’Marcus Simonds also had a big day for the Wolves with 30 points.
Sophomore Dre Martin paced the Cavaliers with 24 points, with 16 of those points coming in the second half, and freshman Braylon Sanders added 13 points.
Junior Quadarius Patillo contributed nine points.
“Give Buford credit. They did a good job,” Hayes said. “They’re awfully good. They’re faster than I thought they were. They came out quicker than us. And they got the ball inside to Lubin.”
The Cavaliers had all sorts of trouble on the offensive end early, and they were down 14-2 five minutes into the game.
Callaway did outscore Buford 6-2 over the final 2:30 of the first period to make it a 17-8 game.
The Wolves exploded in the second period, though, and with 2:10 left in the half they were ahead 34-11.
The Cavaliers needed a spark, and they got it with back-to-back baskets from Martin to cut the Wolves’ lead to 34-15.
After a Justin Edwards 3-pointer, the Cavaliers finished the first half on a 6-0 run with Patillo hitting a 3-pointer with five seconds left to cut what had been a 23-point deficit moments earlier to 16.
The Cavaliers continued their surge in the second half, and when Martin scored with 5:39 left in the third period, the Wolves’ lead was down to 10.
The Wolves went back up by 14, but a 6-0 Callaway run started by a Terry Godwin offensive rebound and putback and capped by a pair of Martin free throws made it a 49-41 game.
That was as close as the Cavaliers had been since late in the first period.
The Wolves extended the lead back to 10 on their ensuing possession, and they were ahead 61-48 through three periods.
The Cavaliers got within nine points a couple of times early in the fourth period, but beginning with a Lubin 3-point play with 5:25 remaining, the Wolves were off and running.
The Wolves went on to lead by as many as 19 points, and they finished with 31 points in the final quarter.
“It was just about us sticking together and staying playing together as a team,” Lubin said. “We started to separate playing as a team and that’s how (Callaway) started to cut the lead down.”
Lubin added that it got “kind of scary in the fourth quarter. We knew they were a good team and they like to run and play that type of game. But we pulled together.”
After the slow start, the Cavaliers scored a respectable 76 points, but they had no answer for Buford’s offense.
“The offense came back. We made some shots,” Hayes said. “But we never stopped them.”
The Cavaliers should have a great chance to be a championship contender again next season with so many players returning.
That didn’t make Saturday’s loss any easier to take, though.
“It’s never easy,” Hayes said. “You just get ready to play next year.”