SNELLVILLE -- For the first time in three years, and just the third time in the last eight, there will be no Gwinnett team in the boys finals of the Deep South Basketball Classic.
Winder-Barrow made sure of that early in Tuesday's semifinal game with the county's lone remaining team in the championship bracket, Mill Creek.
With the Hawks working to cut off 6-foot-7 post Alonzo Nelson-Odado, Bulldogg guards Quay Flannigan, D.J. Butler and Trent Demeritte made them pay.
The trio erupted for a combined 41 points to help Winder-Barrow into tonight's finals with a 58-46 win at Brookwood.
But as much as the scoring punch on the perimeter was a key to the Bulldoggs (10-1) earning a berth to take on South Cobb for the championship tonight at 7:15, coach David Sokol said the perimeter defense played an equal role.
"When you get a little lead, it's easier to make shots," Sokol said. "We got comfortable and got in kind of a rhythm. ... But I think the defensive effort was key. We didn't have a good defensive effort (Monday). In order for us to be successful, it's got to be on the defensive end."
Winder-Barrow was quite successful on the defensive end, holding Mill Creek (9-2) to just a single field goal over the first 5:32 of the game and just 15 points, while forcing 14 turnovers, in the first half.
Aside from Brandon Hayman, who scored half of his 14 points in opening 16 minutes, the Hawks couldn't generate much offense in the first half.
"They got up into us and pushed us around a little bit," Mill Creek coach Chad Rogers said. "They got up and played physical defense. Then, we had to front their post player (Nelson-Odado), and they hurt us with the weak-side 3."
And when they collapsed around Nelson-Odado, the Winder-Barrow guards cashed in.
Flannigan hit a 3-pointer to cap an 8-2 run over the final 2:07 of the first quarter to give the Bulldoggs an 18-7 lead, while Demeritte converted two transition baskets as Winder-Barrow twice built as much as a 14-point lead before taking a 26-15 advantage into intermission.
Still, Mill Creek was in striking distance, though that changed with more Winder-Barrow pressure to start the second half.
The Hawks committed turnovers on three of their first four possessions of third quarter, while Butler scored seven points in a 12-2 run over a 3:41 span midway through the period that pushed the Bulldoggs' lead to 42-20 with 3:24 left.
By the time Mill Creek got its offense going, with Kyle Speller scoring 12 of his team-high 15 points, the issue was no longer in doubt.
Demeritte led all scorers with 16 points, while Flannigan added 14 and Butler finished with 11. Jamias Davis had only two points, but also had a strong floor game with five rebounds and four assists.