Staff Photo: Jason Braverman North Gwinnett's Tobias Howard gains control of the ball after he scrambles with Central Gwinnett's Darius Joell (11) during Thursday's final game of the Jared Cook Holiday Classic.
SUWANEE -- Though it led for almost the entirety of Thursday night's boys championship game of the 2011 Jared Cook Classic, North Gwinnett could never seem to get rid of Central Gwinnett.
But after the visiting Black Knights forced overtime and seem to seize control, the host Bulldogs took advantage of a break and leaned on two of their senior leaders -- Chris Bolden and A.J. Clements -- to pull them through for a 66-59 victory.
Bolden, who was named the tournament's most valuable player, scored a game-high 26 points and added five rebounds and four steals, while Clements had 15 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals.
More importantly, the pair were each 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in overtime, part of a North (5-4) effort that saw it go 12 of 14 from the line in the extra frame to seal its second straight tournament title and third in the last four years.
"Our seniors really came up big (Thursday) night," North coach Zach Smith said. "My hat goes off to (Central coach) David Allen and those kids. ... The way they battled, they played with spirit and showed tremendous resolve all week. I was honored to have them in this tournament.
"When you get in a battle like that, they're playing to win. They were not going to go away. ... We let our guards down a couple times, and they punched us in the mouth, but we bounced back and we finished it when we had to."
It didn't look like that would be necessary after the Bulldogs took a 45-39 lead after three quarters, and scored the first five points over the opening 1:42 of the final quarter to build a 50-39 lead after Tobias Howard's driving layup with 6:18 left in regulation.
But Slim Delbridge matched Howard's drive down the lane on Central's next possession, sparking a run of 12 straight points over the next 4:27 to suddenly vaulted the Black Knights (8-3) into their first lead of the game at 51-50 after Brian Egejuru's circus jumper in the lane with 1:51 left in regulation.
Bolden immediately answered with a driving layup with 1:41 left, but North missed chances to put the game away by missing 4 of 6 free throw attempts -- including the front end of a 1-and-1 -- leaving the Bulldogs with just a 54-51 lead.
And Darius Joell made them play by draining a 3-pointer from the left wing with 22 seconds left to tie the score at 54-all and send the game into overtime.
There, Clements finally came through after each team had missed opportunities to take the lead by hitting two free throws with 2:17 remaining to put North on top 56-54.
"You've just got to keep fighting until the end," Clements said.
Central was definitely going to keep fighting, especially after a 3-pointer by Delbrdige was followed by a steal by Joell and a layup from Shaun Jones to pushed the Black Knights back in front at 59-56 with 1:20 left.
But the game turned after Justin Martin was whistled for his fifth foul while Bolden tried to maneuver along the sideline with 1:12 remaining, and was then hit with a technical foul when he took his jersey off on his way to the bench.
With North already in the double bonus, Bolden hit all four free throws to put the Bulldogs up for good at 60-59.
"We've got to deal with late game situations," Allen said of the sequence.
Still, with the lead just 63-59, Central had a chance to tie in the final minute, but Clements came up with perhaps his biggest defensive play of the game by blocking a driving to the basket, recovering the loose ball and sending it forward to Kwesi Abakah, who was fouled on the other end and hit 1 of 2 free throws to make the score 64-59 with 34.3 seconds left.
"Defense, really, is what helped us the most," Clements said. "They got on a run, ... and we just had to pick up our defense."
Abakah also reached double figures for North with 10 points and added nine rebounds.
Central was led by 15 points each from Delbridge and Joell, who also added eight and six rebounds respectively. Joell also had five steals, and Eman Westmoreland chipped in 11 points, while Jones finished with 10 points and six boards.
It was an inspired effort from the Black Knights, who were still mourning the death of former teammate Jerry Coleman earlier this week.
And Allen said he couldn't have been prouder of that effort.
"I commend our guys for fighting to get back in it," Allen said. "We did what we needed to on the defensive end to create some opportunities.
"Kids this young shouldn't have to shoulder a burden like this, and I commend them for the way the kept their composure all week."
Notes: Bolden was joined on the All-Tournament team by Joell, Xavier Okoro of Dacula, Jordan Jacks of Chapel Hill, Ayinde Russle of Mays and Joe Rasmussen of Mecer Island (Wash.).