HOSCHTON -- A start against three upper-tier Region 7-AAAAA boys basketball teams was tough. Then a matchup with Milton, the Class AAAAA runner-up last season, was mixed in.
That schedule created quite a gauntlet for the Norcross boys basketball team and it didn't get any easier Monday night at Mill Creek, the region's hottest and only remaining unbeaten team.
But the Blue Devils passed their latest test with a 66-57 victory, handing the Hawks and new coach Chad Rogers their first loss of the season.
"I'm really proud of them," said Norcross head coach Jesse McMillan, whose team never trailed. "Let's be honest, Mill Creek's a good team. They're playing great defense. They have a lot of experience back from last year. We've been going through a tough stretch of the region to open up, Peachtree Ridge, Collins Hill, North Gwinnett and Mill Creek."
Norcross came out of that stretch with a 3-1 region mark (4-2 overall), the lone slip-up a loss last Friday night to Peachtree Ridge. Another loss followed last Saturday to loaded Milton, but the Blue Devils shook off the two-game skid quickly.
They scored the game's first seven points and led 21-10 after a quarter. Jeremy Lamb, who finished with 21 points, four steals and three blocks, had seven points and three of his steals in the opening quarter.
Though Mill Creek fought back and got to within five points at various points over the next three quarters, the damage of the first quarter was tough to overcome for the Hawks (7-1, 4-1).
"The first quarter we came out a little shell-shocked. ... and we didn't do what we wanted to do," Rogers said. "After that, we got back in the game. We knew we had to stop them on the blocks and we really didn't do that. ... But I'm proud of my kids for getting back in the game. We'll be excited to play them again."
Mill Creek -- which played most of the second half without two foul-plagued starters, Ronald Wamer and Nick Orangio -- made its final push midway through the final quarter. Kyle Speller's basket with 4:47 left cut the gap to 49-44, but Lamb had lay-ups on three straight possessions to help the visitors pull away.
His three baskets started a three-minute run that saw Norcross score on seven straight possessions.
"It's a two-possession game and we give up three coast-to-coast layups there," Rogers said.
From McMillan's perspective, it was nice to see Lamb step up in a close game. The Connecticut signee led a stout defensive effort with team highs in blocks and steals, but also gave a much-needed offensive boost to an inexperienced team.
"We have some kids that played last year but they weren't really the leaders of the team, so every one of these tight games is helping us grow up mentally and physically," McMillan said. "(Lamb's) learning how to play in that (leadership) role. He's learning when to let it come to you and when to take it."
Marty Johnson had 11 points and five rebounds for Norcross, Adrian Hubbard had 12 points and Malcolm McDonald added eight points and five rebounds.
Brandon Hayman was the cog for Mill Creek with 13 points, seven assists and three steals. Speller finished with 11 points and eight rebounds and Derrick Lacey contributed 10 points.