HOSCHTON -- A basketball season that looked to be slipping away not too long ago has evolved into something special for the North Gwinnett boys.
At one point, the Bulldogs were 7-9. After Wednesday night's 62-46 win over host Mill Creek in the Region 7-AAAAA tournament, they are state-tournament bound.
Their latest victory was their ninth in the past 10 games, earning a shot at top-ranked Norcross on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Peachtree Ridge in the region semifinals.
"The guys started taking a little more ownership about what they're doing," North boys coach Len Garner said of the reasons behind his team's turnaround. "That's what pride is in the North Gwinnett program. Once they did that and we got a couple of big wins, like Peachtree Ridge and Mill Creek, they started to believe in themselves and believe anything is possible."
A tough loss Monday to Collins Hill in the regular-season finale made North's path tougher. After a Tuesday win over South Forsyth in a play-in game, the Bulldogs (16-10) had to win at Mill Creek (17-8) to make the state playoffs.
They trailed the Hawks by three at halftime, but held the hosts to 16 second-half points in pulling away. Mill Creek was 6-for-24 shooting in the final two quarters, turning it over eight times.
"Our defense was definitely big," North senior Matt Walker said. "Our defense helped us so much."
Walker's size caused the Hawks problems as he finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists and five blocked shots. Teammate Conner Day had four steals, while point guard Clayton Williams had a huge night with 18 points, six rebounds and six assists. Cyrus Lavant also scored 13, including 11 in the second half.
Mill Creek was led by Brandon Hayman (14 points, seven rebounds), Kyle Speller (12 points) and Ronald Wamer (seven points, nine rebounds).
The Hawks looked good in the second quarter, with Speller and Jon Adler shooting them to a 30-27 halftime edge. But North started the third quarter on a 10-1 run and never trailed again.
Lavant had a big steal and three-point play midway through the fourth quarter for a 46-38 lead that handed a big blow to the Hawks' comeback hopes. An intentional foul and technical foul on the same play helped seal the win as North finished it out.
Williams made 8 of 10 free throws in the fourth, making sure North put a good ending on a season that started roughly.
"Making state means basically everything," Walker said. "The first day of practice we wrote state on the board. That's been our goal the whole time."
Mill Creek girls 66, Northview 56 (OT)
The second-seeded Mill Creek girls nearly saw their state tournament dreams end on their home floor before rallying for a 66-56 overtime victory over Northview on Wednesday night in the Region 7-AAAAA tournament.
Moneshia Simmons scored 29 points to lead the Hawks (22-4), hitting a heavily contested shot with four seconds left to tie the score and force overtime. Mill Creek didn't lead the game until overtime.
Alicia Brookins scored 18 and Jac' Weathers added eight points for the victors.
"(Simmons) kind of took the attitude that we're not going to lose, we're going to find a way," said Mill Creek girls coach Ashley Phillips, who praised Northview for limiting Simmons' touches.
But when Simmons got the ball, she was tough to stop.
Mill Creek trailed throughout the game, falling behind 31-21 in a sluggish first half. The deficit was cut to 46-40 and the hosts needed a fourth-quarter surge to tie the game at 54 heading into overtime. Simmons scored nine of her team's 14 points in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks dominated the extra period, outscoring Northview 12-2. They move on to play Chattahoochee on Friday at 7 p.m. at Peachtree Ridge in the region semifinals.