SUWANEE - On this night the No. 1 team in the state and the No. 7 team in the nation wasn't even the best squad in the region.
The Norcross Blue Devils, ranked in the top 10 nationally by USA Today, were upset by an inspired Peachtree Ridge team in the finals of the Region 7-AAAAA tournament on Saturday at North Gwinnett High School.
The Lions built a nine-point lead in the final three minutes and then hung on for dear life in a 49-46 victory over the defending Class AAAAA state champs.
With the victory, Peachtree Ridge (25-3) will host Milton in the first round of the state tournament next Saturday night. Meanwhile Norcross (24-3) will host Wheeler - meaning the two teams that started out the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state will be meeting in the first round of the state playoffs.
"It's been a long time since anyone other than Norcross won the region," Peachtree Ridge head coach Gerald Arnold said. "It's been like 60 games since they lost to anyone in the region, so we're proud of that."
The Lions got 17 points from Zach Graham and 10 points from Sidney Haynes in the win, but the real story on Saturday was the Peachtree Ridge defense.
Norcross shot just 19 of 50 from the field (38 percent) and went over six minutes without scoring a single point in the fourth quarter.
Gani Lawal's smooth jump hook gave the Blue Devils a 39-34 lead with 7:41 remaining in the game. But Norcross, which committed six turnovers in the final quarter and 15 for the game, didn't score again until another Lawal hook at the 1:39 mark. By that time, the Blue Devils trailed by seven.
"We got rebounds, we got out in transition and we beat them the way they usually beat us," said Graham, who also had nine rebounds in the win. "Everybody stepped up tonight and we played as a team."
The Lions tied the game at 39 on a Derrick Bryant 3 with six minutes left and then took the lead for good moments later when Graham converted a 3-point play.
Norcross then could not buy a basket, missing five straight shots until Lawal's hook. Al-Farouq Aminu, who had a monster game the last time the two teams met, scored just two points on the night and fouled out with 3:52 left in the game.
"We talked this week about not playing Norcross' game and playing our game instead," Arnold said.
And that's exactly what the Lions did, though they did have to survive one last Norcross charge.
After his drought-ending hook, Lawal scored on another putback to cut the lead to five with 1:06 left.
Peachtree Ridge then turned the ball over and Jordan Demercy hit his only shot of the night, a 3 from the right corner, to cut the lead to 48-46 with 38 seconds left. After another Lion turnover, the third in three possessions, Norcross actually had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. But Tony Neysmith's short runner missed and after Lawal was fouled moments later, he missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12.8 seconds left.
Haynes hit 1 of 2 free throws after getting the rebound to make the score 49-46. Norcross lost the rebound out of bounds and was forced to foul Bassey Inameti with 8.8 seconds left. The senior missed both free throws however, giving the Blue Devils one last chance.
But Denzail Jones, who hit two of Norcross's three 3's on the night, missed a last-second, game-tying attempt and the Lions had knocked off the Goliath of Region 7-AAAAA.
Norcross hit just 3 of 18 from beyond the arc in the loss. Despite the late missed free throw, Lawal still finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Neysmith added 12 points and eight rebounds and point guard Tarriq Muhammed added a game-high seven assists.
"I still say they're the best team in the state," Arnold said of the Blue Devils. "I think they're still the favorites to win it. But I'm just happy we were the better team tonight."
North Gwinnett 60, South Forsyth 49
SUWANEE - Andrew Anderson scored 22 points to help North Gwinnett top South Forsyth 60-49 and finish third in the Region 7-AAAAA tournament on Saturday night.
Ebuka Anyaorah scored 15 points and Adam Demuyakor added 10 for North in the win.