SUWANEE - Neither team played its best game on Thursday. Not even close actually.
But when the final buzzer sounded in the semifinals of the Region 7-AAAAA boys tournament at North Gwinnett, they both had done exactly what they needed to do.
The No. 4 Peachtree Ridge boys slipped past North 59-50 and No. 1 Norcross then dispatched scrappy South Forsyth 61-46 to set up a rematch of the two highly ranked teams in the region championship game Saturday night at North.
Norcross (24-2) has won the previous two meetings by double digits, but the Blue Devils know how difficult it is to beat a good team three times in one season.
"It's really tough," said Norcross senior Tony Neysmith, who scored a game-high 17 points in the win. "It will be the second time we've played them with their full roster (a number of the Lions were still playing football the first time the two teams met). It ought to be real exciting."
The Blue Devils' game against South Forsyth on Thursday was probably a little more exciting than they wanted.
After jumping out to a 23-9 lead in the first quarter, Norcross struggled the rest of the night offensively. The Blue Devils led 34-22 at halftime, but after coming out of the locker room and going on an early run that gave them a 21-point lead, South Forsyth fought back.
The War Eagles got the lead down to 12 again at the end of the third and then down to as low as 10 early in the fourth before the Blue Devils took the game over.
Al-Farouq Aminu scored all 11 of his points in the second half and Neysmith added five points in the final quarter as the Blue Devils pushed the lead to 21 again at one point in the final period.
"Once a team feels like it can play with you, it's tough to put them away," Neysmith said.
"I don't think we overlooked them," Norcross head coach Eddie Martin said. "It seems like all around the state, the first games in the region tournament are sloppy ... but in the fourth quarter we did the little things we had to do."
The Blue Devils got the win despite getting only six points from star senior Gani Lawal (on 2 of 2 shooting from the floor and 2 of 4 from the line), who missed a majority of the second half because of foul trouble. Lawal finished with three rebounds and four blocks, Aminu added six rebounds and five blocks and point guard Tarriq Mohammed scored all 12 of his points in the first 10 minutes of the game for the Blue Devils, who shot 25 of 42 from the floor but committed 17 turnovers.
South Forsyth, which was led by Jimmy Conley's 17 points, shot just 16 of 44 from the floor and committed 22 turnovers in the game.
Not that the War Eagles and the Blue Devils were the only teams that found offense tough to find on Thursday.
The Peachtree Ridge-North Gwinnett game was far from a scoring fest either.
The Lions (24-3) led 31-18 at half and by as many as 20 in the third quarter before the host Bulldogs (17-9) began to chip away.
A layup by North's Adam Demuyakor cut the Peachtree Ridge lead to 50-45 with 1:05 left, but it was as close as the Bulldogs would get.
The Lions hit 6 of 9 free throws down the stretch and Cameron Heyward (11 points, 19 rebounds) added a reverse dunk for good measure as Peachtree Ridge escaped with a hard-fought nine-point win.
For the game, the Lions shot 20 of 57 from the floor.
"Early on in the first half we were getting the shots we wanted," Peachtree Ridge head coach Gerald Arnold said. "You have to shoot better than that against anybody ... but we'll take it. North Gwinnett is a quality team and coach (Len) Garner does a good job."
Demuyakor had 15 points and 10 rebounds and Andrew Anderson came off the bench to score a team-high 16 points for the Bulldogs, who continued to battle back all game despite cold shooting (18 of 53 from the floor and 0 of 12 from 3-point range).
After sitting out Wednesday's quarterfinal win with the flu, senior Zach Graham led the way for the Lions with 16 points. Point guard Kevin Anderson added 15 points and Sidney Haynes scored 11.
Up next for the Lions is the team that's handed them two of their three losses this season.
"I'm definitely excited," Anderson said. "I can't wait to play them again. I think we've got a good chance this time."
Is the head coach as eager as his talented point guard for another crack at the Blue Devils?
"I wouldn't use the term 'eager' anytime you're playing Norcross," Arnold said with a laugh. "...I'm just glad to have a third chance to play them."
Said Heyward: "We're just going to really try to play our pace, not their pace. And we just have to play as a team, play unselfish and go out there and have fun." tml>