SUWANEE With its defensive centerpiece in Josiah Moore sidelined with a concussion, Norcross dug down deep and found its defensive intensity when it needed it.
Facing a North Gwinnett squad that had won nine of its last 10 games, Norcross put together an impressive stretch in the second quarter and held the Bulldogs to just five points in the period.
That span of time proved to be pivotal in the Blue Devils' 67-59 win over North in the semifinals of the Region 7-AAAAA tournament Friday night at Peachtree Ridge.
With the win, Norcross (23-2) will play for the region crown at 7 p.m. at Peachtree Ridge.
"We've got a lot of kids that have never been in this situation before," Norcross head coach Jesse McMillan said. "You could tell that early on because we threw the ball around quite a bit. It's going to be a good experience builder for us."
North (16-11) took advantage of the early Norcross miscues and led most of the first quarter, eventually leading 18-14 at period's end.
But Norcross found its defensive rhythm in the second, allowing just a pair of field goals, while the offense kept plugging away to put in 16 points.
"We got in foul trouble early and that helped keep us out of our rhythm," McMillan said. "We settled down in the second and held (North) to just a few points. It's good to get a good win against a good North Gwinnett team on this floor."
E. Victor Nickerson led the attack on offense in the first half for Norcross, scoring all 13 of his points in the first two periods while finishing the game with 10 rebounds.
Nickerson was just part of a balanced effort on offense for the Blue Devils. Jeremy Lamb scored 17 points, Marty Johnson finished with 15 points and Malcolm McDonald added 11 points.
Those points were needed as North's Conner Day poured in eight of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter to try and bring his team back.
Matt Walker also helped keep North close, finishing with 10 points (all in the second half) while grabbing a team-high 11 rebounds.
However, Lamb and McDonald combined for 11 points in the third to help keep the lead in the eight- to 12-point range.
North put together one final charge in the fourth quarter on a quick 5-0 spurt off a field goal from Cyrus Lavant (17 points, nine rebounds) and a long 3-pointer from Clayton Williams to cut the score to 58-53 with 2:30 to play.
The Bulldogs came up with the defensive stop they had been looking for on the ensuing possession. But Alex Tiller's 3-point attempt from the left of the key missed, allowing Norcross to go on a fast break that ended in an impressive dunk by Lamb.
"I'm proud of our guys," North head coach Len Garner said. "I think we probably surprised (Norcross) a little bit and we're playing our hearts out. I think we have now learned how hard we've got to play in order to win these things.
"But tonight is not the end of the world because we've got another game tomorrow night."
North will play at Peachtree Ridge at 3 p.m. to decide the region's third seed for the upcoming Class AAAAA state tournament.