NORCROSS - The No. 1 Norcross boys wanted to come out and set the tone early in Tuesday night's much-anticipated, much-hyped showdown against No. 3 Peachtree Ridge.
Instead, they went ahead and delivered a knockout punch.
The Blue Devils, ranked No. 9 in the nation by USA Today, jumped out to a huge first-quarter lead and then cruised to a 76-59 win in front of a raucous, standing-room only crowd at Norcross.
"We wanted to be able to do that," Norcross head coach Eddie Martin said. "They had a great crowd and I thought we took their crowd out of the game early."
Dunks will do that.
Norcross (19-2, 12-0 in Region 7-AAAAA) had four slams in the first eight minutes and shot a whopping 11 of 15 from the floor, ending the period with a 24-8 lead.
Gani Lawal's thunderous dunk, on an off-the-glass feed from point guard Taariq Muhammad, put the finishing touches on a staggering, smothering first quarter for the Blue Devils.
Lawal had seven of the Blue Devils' 13 dunks, helping his team to a 32-for-54 (59.3 percent) shooting night.
"We wanted to come out and play aggressively," said Lawal, who finished with 22 points (on 11 of 13 shooting), eight rebounds and three blocks. "And we felt like coming into the game that our defense was at a level that they hadn't seen before."
The Blue Devils limited Peachtree Ridge to just 4 of 16 shooting in the first quarter and a meager 22 of 62 for the game (35.5 percent).
Peachtree Ridge star guard Zach Graham, who came into the contest averaging 23.5 points per game, was hounded all night by Norcross' Jordan DeMercy and Tony Neysmith and scored just 12 points on 4 of 21 shooting - eliciting a chant of "Where's Zach Graham?" from the Norcross student section in the process. Graham started the game 2-for-18.
"I think they did an outstanding job making (Graham) have to work for his shot," Martin said. "And I think that caused him a little bit of frustration out there."
Said Neysmith: "Knowing Zach as long as I have, playing with him and against him, I know what he likes to do. And I think that helped a lot."
The final three quarters were almost dead-even as Norcross outscored Peachtree Ridge by just one point over that span. But the damage had been done in the first eight minutes and the Lions were never able to get the lead under double digits.
"We were out of it early," Peachtree Ridge head coach Gerald Arnold said. "I thought Norcross did a great job of being ready to play and jumping out early. We were deep in a hole at the half, but to our kids' credit they came back and played hard in the second half."
After going down 55-30 midway through the third quarter on a baseline 3-pointer from Denzail Jones (9 points), Peachtree Ridge made a nice, little run to cut into the lead.
Led by point guard Kevin Anderson (23 points on 10 of 16 shooting), the Lions scored 12 of the final 14 points of the quarter to get within 13.
But two straight buckets by budding superstar Al-Farouq Aminu (21 points and 11 rebounds) and a terrific tip-pass from DeMercy to Lawal for a two-handed jam pretty much ended any hopes of a miracle comeback.
And as the clock ticked down to zero, DeMercy threw down a dunk on one end and Lawal blocked a shot into the bleachers on the other end to give the Norcross fans two more highlights to add to the reel.
"It was real fun," Neysmith said. "We already knew it was going to be really packed in here. So we knew we had to come out and play."
DeMercy finished with 10 points, three assists and three rebounds for the Blue Devils, who out-rebounded Peachtree Ridge 30-15 on the night.
And Muhammad had another outstanding floor game, finishing with eight points and a game-high seven assists. Norcross tallied 19 assists while Peachtree Ridge had just five.
"He's definitely a pass-first point guard," Martin said. "... he likes to create for other people."
Cameron Heyward, who was playing in front of a bevy of college football recruiters (including at least five from the University of Georgia staff), finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in the loss.
Norcross girls 50, Peachtree Ridge 38
Tiffany Clarke had 18 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Norcross girls to a 50-38 win over Peachtree Ridge on Tuesday.
Nicole Jones added 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Blue Devils, who are now 5-16 on the season.
Amber Blackwell led Peachtree Ridge with 12 points.