SNELLVILLE - Like any basketball team this time of year, the Norcross Blue Devils are very much a work in progress.
The only difference is they can still be pretty dominant even when they don't play their best.
The defending state champions got 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots from Gani Lawal on their way to a season-opening 77-62 win on Tuesday over a scrappy Shiloh team that never seemed to go away.
"All in all, for the first game I thought we played pretty well," Norcross head coach Eddie Martin said. "We've got areas to improve in obviously. But we're supposed to at this time of the year. I'd be worried if we didn't."
Norcross, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 2 in the nation by USA Today, played Tuesday night without Al-Farouq Aminu, who is regarded by many as the top junior in the state.
Aminu, who transferred from Wesleyan a season ago, had to sit out because he isn't officially eligible for the Blue Devils until Nov. 30 - exactly 365 days after he first enrolled at Norcross.
His first game will be Thursday at home against Collins Hill.
Still, even without the 6-foot-8 Aminu, the Blue Devils dominated the paint against Shiloh.
Norcross had a 45-23 rebounding edge over the Generals on Tuesday, with Lawal's 13 boards leading the way.
"The bottom line is they are a very good team," Shiloh head coach Don Einolf said. "They are one of the elite teams in the state."
It showed early.
Norcross jumped out to an 11-0 lead, on Oklahoma signee Tony Neysmith's 3-pointer, with 4:09 left in the first quarter. It looked as if the Blue Devils would blow the doors off the Generals (2-3).
But Shiloh responded and got to within 18-17 on a Andre Mikell 3-pointer with 5:11 left in the first half.
The Blue Devils, sparked by a defense that held the Generals to 8 of 35 from the floor in the first half, went on another run though and went into the locker room with a 35-22 lead.
The advantage ballooned to as many as 18 early in the third, but Lawal then picked up his third foul and sat the rest of the period. And Shiloh's Chris Nwabude caught fire.
The senior hit four straight 3's at one point to cut the lead to single digits, and finished with a team-high 22 points (all in the second half).
"He got hot in the second half," Martin said of Nwabude. "That was big."
Said Einolf: "I'm very proud of Chris for stepping up like he did tonight. He really showed some senior leadership and that's what I expect out of him."
But despite Nwabude's hot hand, Norcross was just too deep, too big and too talented for the Generals.
Lawal, a Georgia Tech signee, came back in the fourth quarter and scored 15 of his game-high 24. And Florida State signee Jordan DeMercy, playing his first varsity game as a Blue Devil, had seven in the quarter and finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks.
"He's going to do more for us, too," Martin said of DeMercy, who like Aminu had to sit out last year per GHSA transfer rules. "And he needs to step up for us. He's definitely got that type of ability."
For the game, Norcross shot 27 of 60 (45 percent) from the floor.
Shiloh shot just 21 of 75 (28 percent), but hit 12 out of 32 from beyond the 3-point line.
"We withstood their runs," Martin said. "If you want to have a chance to be a good team you've got to withstand runs."
And just in case you weren't aware, the Blue Devils have a chance to be a pretty good team this season.
Shiloh girls 60, Norcross 34
Caneisha Bell scored 13 points to lead Shiloh over Norcross 60-34 on Tuesday night.
Brooke Lane added 10 points for Shiloh, which improved its record to 3-1. Veronica O'Brady scored 11 points for Norcross.