SUWANEE -- North Gwinnett boys head coach Len Garner said that games are won in stretches and, fortunately for him, his team was able to put together one more stretch than Berkmar.
Facing the Patriots in the first round of the Jared Cook Holiday Classic at North Gwinnett on Monday night, the Bulldogs built a big lead in the third quarter only to hold off a late surge by Berkmar to post a 52-45 win.
Winners of last year's Powerade Festival, the win was the first step for North Gwinnett in winning the inaugural Jared Cook tournament.
"There's no doubt, our guys want to win this," Garner said as his team improved to 6-4. "We were able to go on a good run and build our lead up to 16 points and that made (Berkmar) have to fight back and do some other things they normally wouldn't do. (Berkmar) has really improved and they played hard tonight."
After leading 25-19 at the half, North looked like it had put Berkmar away with a solid 14-6 run to open the quarter, taking its biggest lead at 36-23 when Matt Walker scored off an assist from Carlton Rose with 2:51 left in the third.
After that, Berkmar (1-8) began to chip away, getting to within nine at 41-32 early in the fourth when Obu Obu scored on a lay up after a steal with 6:42 left to play.
"We've gotten down early in so many games this year but we've never quit," Berkmar head coach Greg Phillips said. "We've just got to learn to consistently play good from the beginning and not get down by 10 or 12 points so early."
A little over two minutes after Obu's basket, Wilson Murray made it even closer when he converted a three-point play with 5:19 left, cutting the score to 44-37, but Conner Day stretched the lead back out to 11 for the Bulldogs by scoring the game's next four points.
Still, Berkmar wouldn't go away, getting as close as 48-43 with 34 seconds left after a 3-pointer from Yonel Brown, who led the Patriots with 15 points.
But time eventually ran out on Berkmar, putting the Bulldogs into tonight's semifinals against Wesleyan at 8:10 p.m.
"It should be interesting," Garner said of tonight's game. "They shot the ball extremely well against Flowery Branch. We've also not played a match up zone the way they play it, so it should be a fun game."
Alex Tiller finished with 12 points to lead the Bulldogs while A.J. Clements added 11 points off the bench. Cyrus Lavant chipped in with 10 points while Walker snared 13 rebounds to go along with eight points.
Berkmar, which plays Flowery Branch today at 10:30 a.m., also received eight points from Murray while Obu tallied 11 rebounds and seven points.
Cook, the tournament's sponsor, is a North Gwinnett alumnist currently in his rookie year with the Tennessee Titans. He has donated several items of football memorabilia which are being raffled off to raise money for breast cancer research for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.