Explosive Blue Devils sweep North

Photo: David McGregor . Norcross guard Bianca O'Neal (12) drives past North Gwinnett's Rachel Brucks during the first half of their game Tuesday night at Norcross.

Photo: David McGregor . Norcross guard Bianca O'Neal (12) drives past North Gwinnett's Rachel Brucks during the first half of their game Tuesday night at Norcross.

NORCROSS -- For the boys it came in the third quarter. The girls had it at the start of the game.

But the result of the Norcross basketball teams' offensive explosions gave the Blue Devils wins in the season- and region-opening games over North Gwinnett.

The boys rode a 14-4 run to start the third quarter to a 86-58 win, and the girls never looked back from a 20-point opening quarter in their 54-34 win.

"In the first half we wanted to get the jitters out and we played a little more conservative," Norcross boys head coach Jesse McMillan said. "In the third quarter, we talked about how the sweat was back and we felt like it was time to pick it up."

The pickup started on the defensive end.

The Blue Devils forced five North Gwinnett turnovers in the third quarter that set up easy points and open shots in transition. The points rained from everywhere, but the center of the storm followed Jeremy Lamb. Lamb led the Blue Devils with 22 points, nine coming in the third quarter. He also had three assists, rebounds and steals.

"We refer to him as an all-around perfect teammate," McMillan said of Lamb. "He is a basketball player, a friend and teammate first. The kids enjoy playing with him."

And Lamb enjoys playing with them. The most animated the senior became during the game was when he connected on the third-straight pass that led to a Malcolm McDonald dunk in the fourth quarter. On the series, the Blue Devils connected on four passes and the ball never hit the floor.

"It was fun to see the crowd go crazy," Lamb said. "I was happy we were able to put on a show."

The early show was all North Gwinnett.

The Bulldogs rode 3s from Clayton Williams and Alex Tiller to a quick 12-6 lead, but Norcross didn't let the lead grow, scoring the final 11 points of the first quarter and never trailed again. But it wasn't without a fight from the Bulldogs.

Even after the third quarter explosion that saw a five-point halftime lead grow to 21 late in the quarter, the Bulldogs kept working on defense.

They forced seven turnovers in the fourth quarter and briefly saw the 21-point deficit shrink to nine. Tiller hit three second-half 3s to lead the charge and ended the game with a team-high 18 points. But the Norcross defense kicked back in at 65-56. North would only hit two more free throws as the Blue Devils rattled off 18 straight points to rebuild the 20-point margin.

"We told them we were most proud of how they handled all the different situations," McMillan said. "They appeared more under control and disciplined than we did on the bench at times."

Like the boys, the Norcross girls watched their lead shrink and grow against North Gwinnett. But by forcing 29 turnovers, the Blue Devils masked an inconsistent offensive night inn which most points came in transition rather than from the offense.

"North did a good job of dictating the tempo of the game," said Norcross girls coach Angie Hembree.

The Blue Devils built their lead off hot shooting in the first quarter. Four different players hit 3s in the opening minutes, and the defense rattled North so quickly that the Bulldogs took a time out 20 seconds into the game.

"We hit some 3s early and that really helped us out," Hembree said.

North tried to mimic in the second quarter, hitting a pair of 3s and cutting a 13-point deficit to eight by halftime. Stephanie Wheeler and Rachel Brucks combined for 13 points in the quarter and Wheeler led the Bulldogs with 10 points.

But that couldn't match Kaela Davis and Bianca O'Neal. Davis led the Blue Devils with 15 points off three 3s and O'Neal racked up a quiet 12 while running an offense that was absent of standout Diamond DeShields.

DeShields missed most of the third quarter with four fouls and fouled out early in the fourth, but she still managed nine points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal.

But other players stepped into her role on defense, with Nia Ladson and Justine Nelson each turning back the North offense in the second half.

"I was really happy with the kids off our bench," Hembree said.

And there was always O'Neal.

"She really showed her leadership," Hembree said.