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North boys open region play with win over Peachtree Ridge

 

 

SUWANEE -- The season for North Gwinnett's boys didn't exactly get off to the start head coach Zach Smith was hoping for.

But his team may have turned a corner.

After dropping its first four games of the year, North opened its Region 7-AAAAA schedule Tuesday night at Peachtree Ridge with a convincing 80-61 win over the Lions.

The win not only snapped the four-game losing skid for North (1-4, 1-0), it also ended another streak in futility.

"This was the first time we had won on this court in seven years," Smith said. "We finally got that monkey off our back. Our guys earned it. We played four tough games to open the season to get ready for this one."

North never trailed in the game but the Lions (2-2, 0-1) stayed close early, trailing but just four points at 20-16 after the first period.

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In the second, the Bulldogs took control with 29 points to 16 for the Lions. Freshman T.J. Howard, who finished with 18 points, hit four 3-pointers in the second to lead the charge.

Georgia Tech commit Chris Bolden also played a big role in the early surge with seven of his 15 points in the second, but it was his passing on the night that served the team more than his shooting.

"He's such an unselfish player," Smith said of Bolden, who dished out seven assists on the night to go along with eight rebounds. "He's always looking for the open man."

North carried a 49-32 lead at the break and appeared set to challenge the century mark in points, but the Lions picked up its defensive intensity in the third period to slow down the North attack.

Peachtree Ridge forced eight turnovers in the third quarter in its comeback attempt, but the offense wasn't able to take advantage, hitting just 6 of 16 from the floor.

"(North) played well," Peachtree Ridge head coach Keith Arrington said. "They shot the lights out and we didn't respond. We played a little better on defense in the second half but we can't give up 80. We got down in a hurry which can happen in this region."

A.J. Clements also delivered a strong game for North with a game-high 23 points, hitting five 3-pointers along the way. The senior also had eight rebounds and five assists.

Clements accounted for nearly half of North's offense in the second half with 15 of his team's 31 points in the final two frames.

The 3-pointer was big for North as the Bulldogs hit 11 treys while shooting its free throws well, hitting 13 of 18. The Lions weren't as accurate, making just 7 of 17 from the charity stripe, while sinking four 3-pointers.

Benny Johnson scored 14, including eight in the fourth quarter, and tallied eight assists to lead the Lions. Rawlings Okivie also came off the bench to score 14, while Brandon Jack finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.

North didn't reach full strength until a couple of weeks ago when three players, including Bolden, returned from their football duties. Even though the entire squad has practiced together half a dozen times, Smith is already seeing more cohesion.

"It'll take some time but we knew that," Smith said. "Things are starting to mesh for us. Having all the guys out has made our practices much more competitive. The guys are hungry and want to win."