NORCROSS -- The Central Gwinnett boys were the ones pulling the upsets the past three seasons. This time, the Black Knights were almost the victims.
"We gave it all we had," Grayson coach Brian Anderson said. "We put the fear in them."
Central Gwinnett, ranked No. 9 in Class AAAAA, didn't crack, though. Far from it, in fact.
The Knights made 13 consecutive free throws late in the game to defeat the Rams 72-64 on Wednesday night at Meadowcreek, advancing to the Region 8-AAAAA semifinals and qualifying for the state tournament once again.
"This is the fourth straight season we've made it and the first time we weren't underdogs," Central Gwinnett coach David Allen said. "We were a little tight at first. I thought we were playing not to lose, rather than playing to win."
But win is what the Black Knights did, improving to 24-2 and advancing to play either South Gwinnett or Berkmar in the 5:30 p.m. semifinal Friday at Meadowcreek. No. 3-seed South Gwinnett plays Berkmar at 8:30 p.m. tonight.
Central Gwinnett tied No. 4-ranked Meadowcreek for first place during the regular season, but the Mustangs won the No. 1 seed for the region tournament on a coin flip.
"I knew this was a tough draw for us," Allen said. "We don't match up well with Grayson's size. They beat us on the boards again."
No. 7-seed Grayson, which finished the season 12-14, played Central Gwinnett tough until the fourth quarter twice during the regular season. This time, the Rams almost pulled off the upset.
"I thought we could do it," Anderson said. "I really think that we are one of the top four teams in this region."
Grayson scored the game's first nine points, six of them by Andrew Osemhen. But Central Gwinnett pulled to within 18-12 at the end of the first quarter and outscored the Rams 19-8 in the second to lead 31-26 at halftime.
With Kyron Anderson hitting a trio of 3-pointers, Central Gwinnett stretched the lead to 50-42 going into the fourth quarter. But Grayson went on a 13-4 run to close to within a point on a 3-point play by Ciavy Wiles with 3:16 remaining.
That is when the Black Knights responded at the foul line, with Jordan Adams leading the way. The sophomore was 11 of 11 at the foul line and Central Gwinnett missed just twice during the game.
"We've been a good free-throw shooting team lately, especially in the clutch," Allen said.
"Their foul shooting beat us," Anderson said. "They wouldn't miss."
Brian Williams scored 18 points for the Black Knights, while Adams had 16 and Anderson 15.
Wiles, a junior with major hops, scored 17 points and had 13 rebounds to lead Grayson. Javarris Smith added 16 points, while fellow seniors Max Faircloth and Osemhen had 14 and 11, respectively.