NORCROSS - Midway through the second quarter, things looked bad for Berkmar.
The Patriots' basketball team had managed just eight points in the quarter, they trailed by three and their best player, Wesley Witherspoon, sat on the bench saddled with a pair of fouls.
But over the final 2:30 of the half, the Patriots went on a 13-2, run led by the only two starters on the floor, Demarion Gordon and Stavantae Rucker. The role players scored six in the run and opened up easy shots for bench players T.J. Smith and Aamir Kelliehan. Smith scored all six of his points on three straight layups and Kelliehan punctuated the streak with a 3 at the buzzer.
The run gave Berkmar a 12-point lead over Meadowcreek and the Mustangs never got closer than eight the rest of the way as the Patriots went on to win 80-63.
The 8-AAAAA win keeps Berkmar (11-4, 5-1 region) tied with Parkview for first place in the region and puts Meadowcreek (11-5, 4-2 region) a game back in the three-team melee.
"I challenged the guys to play defense and I think we are starting to defend," said Berkmar head coach Tommy McWhorter.
Berkmar forced 14 turnovers in the game and pulled down 27 rebounds, five better than the taller Meadowcreek.
"Our main thing is rebounding the basketball and getting second shots," McWhorter said. "We are trying to correct little things, but I thought the kids played hard tonight."
None harder than Gordon and Rucker.
While Witherspoon led the team with 21 points, nine came in the first quarter and 11 came on second-half free throws, most with the game out of reach.
The offense went through the two guards, with Rucker scoring 14 and Gordon 13.
"When Wesley is out, (Rucker and I) hold it together," Gordon said. "We slash, crash the boards and knock 3s down."
"I know everybody looks at Wesley, every time we play, as a target," Rucker said. "That is just more (opportunity) for us to step up."
And it was more than just offense. Rucker also pulled down four rebounds and Gordon dished out three assists.
"We just wanted them to attack," McWhorter said. "If we can get our guys to attack and force defenses to change on the run, I think we have a shot. We are trying to make you make reads in a pretty quick pace. Those guys, if you watch them play, they make plays for us. They make you decide something pretty quickly."
That pace led to 19 Meadowcreek fouls, and the Patriots made 18 of 24 shots from the line. Witherspoon was not the only star limited in scoring. Meadowcreek's Teondre Williams only managed 15 points and just four field goals. Bench-player Jarvis Brown led all scorers with 22. Tyler McDaniels was the only other Mustang to reach double figures with 14 and he hit two 3s in the first quarter.
The Patriots only allowed six different Meadowcreek players to score on the night and two only had two points apiece.
And the defense started with Rucker and Gordon.
"I try to stress defense, and the offense will come," Rucker said. "On the defensive part we got it done tonight."