NORCROSS - The lead the Norcross boys had worked the better part of two quarters to build got whittled down to eight points just past the midway point of the fourth quarter.
Then their two stars took over.
Gani Lawal and Jodie Meeks scored eight of the next 10 points and the Blue Devils pulled away for a 75-62 win over Peachtree Ridge in the Region 7-AAAAA basketball finals on Saturday night.
Lawal, a Georgia Tech commitment, finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots and Meeks, a Kentucky signee, nearly had a triple-double with 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
"It was defense, we turned up the defensive effort," Lawal said of putting the game away. "When (Peachtree Ridge) went on the run we got kind of lax and we weren't getting as much intensity. When we started to pull back away, the defense was the big thing. That was the difference maker."
Cameron Heyward, saddled with foul trouble for most of the third quarter, led the fourth-quarter charge. The Peachtree Ridge post had five points on one trip down the floor, as offensive rebounds off missed free throws led to his baskets. Another basket, on Norcross guard Brenton Butler's fifth foul, cut the gap to 61-53 with 3:37 left.
On the next possession, Norcross spread the floor and Meeks beat his man to the basket, dishing to Lawal for an easy dunk. After a defensive stop, Meeks scored to put the Blue Devils (24-4) up 65-53. Two free throws from Lawal, after he drew Heyward's fifth foul, made it a 14-point game.
Peachtree Ridge (16-13) scored again, but Norcross again opened it up for Meeks. The senior beat his man to the basket and the result was the same, another Lawal dunk that sealed the Lions' fate with 1:40 to play.
Norcross will host Brookwood in the first round of the state tournament next Friday while Peachtree Ridge will host Shiloh in the state opener.
"A team like (Peachtree Ridge) is not just going to go away, they're too talented to go away," Norcross boys coach Eddie Martin said. "They made a good run right there at the end when probably our kids in the back of their minds were thinking the game was over. They got it to eight, but that's the whole key to a championship team. You've got to respond to those runs and I thought we did that."
It took the Blue Devils a quarter on Saturday night to remember how to stop Peachtree Ridge star Zach Graham. The Lions led 21-19 after the first quarter and Graham, who had seven combined points in the first two Norcross games, had 17 of their points. But Norcross held Graham, who finished with 26 points, scoreless in the second quarter for a 10-point halftime edge that grew to 13 points after three quarters.
Heyward added 17 points for the Lions and Norcross also got 13 points from Butler.
Centennial 77, Chattahoochee 68
Freshman Lorenzo Brown scored 21 points and Alex Richey added 18 as the Centennial Knights beat Chattahoochee 77-68 in the third-place game of the Region 7-AAAAA tournament.
Centennial will play at South Gwinnett in the first round of the state tournament on Friday. Chattahoochee, which got 24 points from Kyler Vitko, will play at Meadowcreek.