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Blue Devils topple Lions for title

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
Norcross' Marty Johnson (5) weaves past Peachtree Ridge's Daryan Griffin (20) on Saturday.

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips Norcross' Marty Johnson (5) weaves past Peachtree Ridge's Daryan Griffin (20) on Saturday.

SUWANEE -- Jeremy Lamb and Marty Johnson leaped high at midcourt, banging arms in celebration.

They had plenty to be happy about.

The Norcross boys, ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAA, are heading to the state tournament on a 22-game winning streak and as Region 7-AAAAA champions.

The Blue Devils (25-2) took control with a 19-0 run at the start of the second quarter against Peachtree Ridge and defeated host Lions 68-57 on Saturday night to win the region championship in convincing fashion.

Lamb, who scored a game-high 23 points, was named most valuable player and is joined on the all-tournament team by fellow senior Johnson and junior E. Victor Nickerson. All three are in their first season starting regularly for Norcross.

"We have a lot of talent, but not a lot of experience in postseason games," Blue Devils coach Jesse McMillan said. "I thought we were a little nervous and tentative at the start of the game."

That didn't last long, though.

Norcross and Peachtree Ridge (21-7) split their two regular-season meetings, each time the game being broken open in the fourth quarter. The Region 7-AAAAA title game was decided well before that, though.

Peachtree Ridge hit four of its 11 3-pointers in the first quarter and built a 22-13 lead. But Norcross scored the first 19 points of the second quarter and led 36-26 at halftime thanks to a 23-4 edge.

"We changed up some of our defenses and picked up our intensity," Johnson said. "Once we get going like that, it's hard to stop us."

"That the kind of defense we have to play, especially in the state tournament," McMillan said.

C.J. Blackwell -- Peachtree Ridge's junior scoring leader -- had only two points at halftime and that was 13 less than University of Connecticut recruit Lamb. Jordan Grant had nine points for the Lions at intermission, but seven of them came in Peachtree Ridge's 10-2 start.

Blackwell scored 13 points in the third quarter, hitting a trio of 3-pointers. But that only helped cut the Norcross lead to 52-45 going into the fourth quarter and the Blue Devils soon build their advantage up to 12 points with a 10-3 run.

Johnson had 15 points, all after the first quarter, and four assists. Nickerson, a transfer from Paideia, scored 12 points, Malcolm McDonald grabbed a game-high eight rebounds and Josiah Moore had eight points and seven rebounds.

Peachtree Ridge, which like Norcross will get to host a first-round state tournament game next weekend, got 15 points from Blackwell, 12 from Daryan Griffin and 11 from Grant. Blackwell and Griffin made the all-tournament team.

Norcross started its winning streak after back-to-back losses to Peachtree Ridge and powerful Milton early in the season. The loss to the Lions was 65-45.

"That was embarrassing," Johnson said. "But we weren't thinking about revenge this time. What was important was winning the region championship. That's what feels great."

With Region 7-AAAAA matched with Region 6-AAAAA in the first round, the Blue Devils are assured of meeting a good team next weekend even if it's a No. 4 seed. But Norcross goes into the state tournament on an impressive roll.

"I feel very good about where we are as a team," McMillan said. "You want to be peaking at the start of the state tournament and I think we are."

North Gwinnett 78, Collins Hill 69

Conner Day, a 6-foot-3 senior who was named to the all-tournament team, scored a career-high 31 points before fouling out in the final minute and North Gwinnett (17-11) claimed the No. 3 boys seed from 7-AAAAA with a 78-69 victory over Collins Hill (21-7).

Saah Nimley tried to lead a Collins Hill comeback, scoring 21 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter. But North Gwinnett, which had its seven-game winning streak snapped by the Eagles in the regular-season finale, broke away by making 21 of 23 free throws in the final quarter.

After Nimley, a 5-foot-8 junior, had cut the lead to 65-62 on a basket with 1:38 left, the North Gwinnett went on a 13-2 run. Matt Walker's rebound basket was followed by 11 free throws in 12 attempts down the stretch.

Walker scored 13 points for the Bulldogs. Clayton Williams had 12 points and Alex Tiller scored 10. Day had four 3-pointers.

North Gwinnett was up 36-27 at halftime and led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter as Day scored the Bulldogs' first 13 points after intermission.

Nimley was the only double-figure scorer for Collins Hill, which was edged 59-58 by Peachtree Ridge in Friday's semifinals.