Norcross' Chris Bolden goes up for two past Mill Creek's Ronald Wamer (24) and Brandon Hayman (23) on Friday.
NORCROSS -- The opening half of the doubleheader showdown between the top two teams in Region 7-AAAAA produced plenty of drama, while the back end produced little after the first quarter.
First, No. 4 state-ranked Mill Creek "weathered" the storm put forth by host and No. 3 Norcross.
Jac' Weathers and Tamarr Williams each connected on a trio of 3-pointers to help the Hawks take over the region lead with their 60-56 victory.
Later in the evening, Norcross celebrated its recent ascension to No. 1 in the Georgia Sports Writers Association's rankings, and made a huge statement, by manhandling Mill Creek 79-49.
"A regular season win is never as big as one in the postseason, but yeah, this was big," Mill Creek girls coach Ashley Phillips said after his Hawks (18-3, 13-1) pulled a game ahead of Norcross (16-3, 11-1), though the Blue Devils still have two games in hand.
Both teams rallied from deficits at different points in the game, with Norcross having to fight out of an early 7-0 hole, during a sloppy first half in which the two teams combined for 35 turnovers.
However, the Blue Devils eventually rode the momentum built by freshmen Diamond DeShields and Kaela Davis, who led a 6-0 run over the final 1:31 of the half to vault Norcross in front 19-18 headed into intermission.
And with Mill Creek star post Moneshia Simmons saddled with foul trouble, it looked like Norcross might break things open, especially after the Blue Devils used a 10-2 run over the final 1:57 of the third quarter to build a five-point lead, and then took their biggest lead of the game at 44-37 after a DeShields stickback with 7:44 to play.
But the Hawks backcourt steadied the game, committing only six turnovers in the second half after coughing the ball up 20 times in the first.
"I thought in the first half, we were a little too fired up," Phillips said. "We fumbled some passes and overthrew some people who were open. ... We talked at halftime about the fact we'd made some mistakes, but there are some things that are open."
Weathers, who finished with a game-high 19 points, began to get open on the wing behind the 3-point arc, and began heat up in the fourth quarter.
The senior forward connected on consecutive 3-pointers from almost identical spots on the right wing, and then finished off a 10-0 Mill Creek run with a rebound and follow shot in the lane to push the Hawks into a 47-44 lead with 5:09 left.
But Norcross refused to quit, taking a 54-53 after a 3-pointer by Briana Jordan -- who scored eight of her 10 points in the second half -- with 1:52 remaining.
Sierra Menzies quickly answered with a jumper from the left wing 24 seconds later to put Mill Creek back in front at 55-54.
The Hawks then came up with the biggest defensive play of the night clinging to a 57-56 lead with Norcross trying to inbound the ball in the sideline after taking its final timeout with 18.7 seconds left.
With Mill Creek switching from man-to-man to a zone, the confused Blue Devils couldn't beat the five count and turned it over.
Alicia Brookins then hit 3 of 4 free throws over the next 4.6 seconds to help seal the win for Mill Creek, which also got 12 points from Williams, plus eight poins and six rebounds from Simmons.
DeShields led Norcross with 18 points, nine rebounds and four steals, while Davis finished with 12 points and seven boards.
The boys game was tight throughout the first quarter, which ended when Josiah Moore banked home a 3-pointer at the buzzer, ending a period that had seen seven lead changes and five ties with Norcross (16-2, 11-1) holding a 20-19 lead.
From there, it was all Norcross as the Blue Devils scored the first 10 points of the second quarter -- a combined seven of which came from Moore and Malcolm McDonald -- to push the lead into double digits at 37-26 by halftime.
And the Blue Devils continued to pour it on in the second half, outscoring Mill Creek (16-5, 10-4) 15-0 over the final 3:19 of the third quarter to break the game wide open at 61-37.
Norcross' top six players each scored at least eight points, with Jeremy Lamb leading the way with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Chris Bolden followed closely with 16 points, while Moore (13) and McDonald (10) also reached double figures and pulled down seven rebounds each as the Blue Devils continued to make a big statement in the region race this week, having beaten Peachtree Ridge and Mill Creek by comfortable margins in consecutive games.
"I'm very proud of them. I didn't expect them to play that well in the second half," said Norcross coach Jesse McMillan, whose team takes on Quality Education Academy of North Carolina in the Marriott Invitational tonight at 7:30. "I just told them (in the locker room) that we have a five game stretch in which we play all five against extremely good teams. We're trying to mimic the state tournament, where we have to win five games in a row against some of the best teams we'll play all year."
Mill Creek got a strong game in a losing effort from Kyle Speller, who led all scorers with 22 points. Ronald Wamer also scored in double figures for the Hawks with 10 points.