A late second-quarter run helped the Buccaneers pull away from South Paulding, on the way to claim a 52-42 victory and the Region 5AAAAA championship Wednesday night at Villa Rica High School.
Both teams spent time in the halfcourt offense in the first quarter, and by the time the period ended, they had only scored a combined 13 points.
The offensive intensity picked up over the next 8 minutes, and South Paulding (23-5) had a chance to take an 18-17 lead late in the quarter, but Jordan Roberts missed the free throw that would have capped a three-point play.
Allatoona (27-1) pulled away with an Ephraim Tshimanga layup and a pair of three-point plays from Chris Ifill and Daniel Fowler. Fowler was fouled on a successful tomahawk dunk that brought the Bucs’ fans on their feet in the waning seconds of the half.
Allatoona coach Markus Hood credited tenacious defense for the eventual stream of scoring that helped pad the lead, along with allowing South Paulding to apply pressure in the first half.
“In the first half, we let them kind of come get us a bit more,” Hood said. “It was almost baiting them into it, and in the second half, we were able to attack a lot more.
“A lot of (the late scoring) came from our defense. They did a lot of different things to us, but our kids did a good job of communicating defensively. No defense is perfect, but we covered up pretty quickly and that led to the run that we had.”
Allatoona never led by less than 10 for the rest of the contest, including a 36-23 margin at the end of the third.
Junior forward Drew Swanson led Allatoona the rest of the way, scoring all 10 of his points in the second half as the Bucs continued to crisply attack the press.
Fowler finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, while the Bucs also got nine points apiece from Tshimanga and Bradley Brevet.
Swanson might have had 12 had he not missed a wide-open dunk late in the fourth quarter, but after a productive night, all he could do was laugh it off and run to the other end.
“His legs were gone,” Hood joked. “It was his third game in three days. I told him his legs were tired and he just needed to lay it in.
“He came in and shut down (South Paulding’s Jaquan Evans). He did a good job moving his feet, making hard entry passes. That kid’s a warrior”
With just two seniors in Ephraim Tshimanga and Fowler, Hood noted the team’s youth when talking about the accolade that is a region title.
It was Allatoona’s third trip to a region championship game in the program’s seven-year history. The Bucs’ last title came in 2012.
“It means a lot,” said Hood, who has coached Allatoona from the inception. “We graduated five seniors last year, and four starters. For these young kids to come up and do what they’re doing is great. You’ve got 11 teams battling for a championship. Any time you win that, you’ve done something special.”