Norcross point guard Derrick Herbert (22) advances the ball up court against Peachtree Ridge guard Benny Johnson (11) during Friday night's game at Norcross.
NORCROSS -- Even with all the offensive talent that Norcross has had in recent seasons, the Blue Devils have always stressed defense.
That was the case under Eddie Martin, who won three straight Class AAAAA titles from 2006 through 2008, and the veteran coach passed that emphasis along to Jesse McMillan, who led Norcross to the state title last season.
If the Blue Devils are to contend for a fifth championship in seven years this season, defense will have to be even more the key. Against Peachtree Ridge on Friday night, Norcross showed how far defense can carry a team while caging the Lions.
Peachtree Ridge had just four points in the first 10 minutes and two of them came on a goal tend. It was 20-4 at that point and Norcross was well on its way to a 62-50 Region 7-AAAAA home victory.
"I was exceptionally happy with the way we played defense in the first half," McMillan said. "With all our new players, it took more time to put in our offense than usually and maybe we ignored defense a little bit.
"But we've really worked on it the past two weeks and we're starting to do the things we need to do. Defense will always be what wins games."
Peachtree Ridge is a team that likes to run and the Lions came in off an 84-81 racehorse loss to 2011 Class AAAA finalist Rockdale County. But it was 37-14 midway in the third quarter against Norcross.
When the Lions didn't turn the ball over, they were forced into poor outside shots and few of them fell.
Peachtree Ridge never quit and finally started finding the range. But by then it was too late. Only a flurry of points in the last minute made the final score closer than the game had been.
Norcross had 12 steals, four by Brandon Goodwin, and 6-foot-7 Harold Givens blocked five shots. Peachtree Ridge was without Jordan Capps, but what the Blue Devils did to the Lions was still impressive.
Norcross, which is 2-0 in the region after starting the season with four losses against top national and state competition, led 16-4 at the quarter, 27-10 at halftime and 44-27 going into the final period.
Derrick Herbert led the Blue Devils with 18 points, 10 coming in the opening quarter, and Givens had 17 points and eight rebounds to go with his five blocks. Jason Croom added 10 points and six rebounds, while James Sanders hit a pair of 3-pointers en route to eight points and Myles Autry had four assists.
Peachtree Ridge (3-5, 0-2 region) was led by Davon Hill, who came off the bench to hit a trio of 3-pointers and score 11 points. Brian McGowen, another reserve, had nine points and Benny Johnson scored eight. Rawlings Okivi grabbed eight rebounds.
Capps, a junior transfer from Meadowcreek who had been off to a strong start for the Lions, suffered a high ankle sprain during a game in the Carolina Showcase on Dec. 9 and is expected to be sidelined for three weeks.
Norcross and Peachtree Ridge are now both off until after Christmas. The Blue Devils will play in the Upward Classic at Spartanburg, S.C., while the Lions are in the Great Florida Shootout in Kissimmee. Both tournaments begin Dec. 27.
Norcross girls 70, Peachtree Ridge 37
The Norcross girls, the two-time defending Class AAAAA state champs and ranked No. 2 this season behind McEachern, tuned up for a trip to the Crescent Bank Invitational in Myrtle Beach with a 70-37 victory over Peachtree Ridge.
Diamond DeShields had 16 of her 23 points in the first half and excited the crowd with a dunk attempt on a breakaway early in the second quarter. It was one of the few times she missed.
Norcross, 4-2 overall and 2-0 in Region 7-AAAAA, jumped to a 13-0 lead behind seven quick points from DeShields as Peachtree Ridge (3-4, 0-2) committed eight turnovers before getting its first shot. The lead was 24-7 after the first quarter, 44-24 at halftime and 65-33 going into the shortened fourth quarter.
Shayla Cooper had 13 points for the Blue Devils. and Tori Carter and Patrice Butler each scored 10. Bri Williams had nine points and six assists.
Stephanie Amichia had eight points and eight rebounds to lead Peachtree Ridge, which had taken unbeaten Class AAAA Rockdale County to two overtimes on Tuesday before losing. Melissa Turvey scored seven points.
Norcross finished third at Myrtle Beach last year, defeating Wesleyan in overtime. The Blue Devils will play St. James of South Carolina in their first game in the 16-team event this year at 5:15 p.m. on Monday.
Other teams from Georgia competing are Greater Atlanta Christian, Stephenson and Fayette County. Spring Valley of South Carolina in the defending champion.