Brown, defense help North girls crack Walnut Grove

SUWANEE -- Due to a quirk in the scheduling, North Gwinnett's girls didn't get a chance to scout its semifinal opponent in the third annual Jared Cook Holiday Classic a night earlier.

So, the eighth-ranked Bulldogs used a fairly general game plan -- apply stifling fullcourt defense and turn it into offense on the other end.

They executed that gameplan to perfection, forcing visiting Walnut Grove into 28 turnovers, many of which ended up as layups or open jumpers as North stormed out early and cruised to a 79-40 win Wednesday.

Lexie Brown had a huge night with game highs of 24 points, five assists and eight steals as the Bulldogs (5-1) rolled into tonight's 6:35 final opposite Central Gwinnett, a winner over Dacula earlier in the day.

And North was in control from the start despite an odd situation in which Walnut Grove assumed the spot occupied by Holy Innocents' after its first-round win due to the Golden Bears being having only one game available on their schedule when the tournament's date was shifted a week earlier in the offseason.

"We didn't get a chance to see (Walnut Grove) in person (in Tuesday's first round)," North coach Bryan Sellers said. "I talked to a couple teams that had played them, and they looked like a good team on film. ... We just wanted to limit (Walnut Grove's) touches."

The Bulldogs did a fine job of that, forcing the Warriors (6-5) into turnovers their first seven trips up the court, and not even allowing them a shot attempt until the 4:15 mark of the first quarter.

And while North wasn't shooting the ball particularly well in the early going, it was good enough as Brown scored five points and came up with three steals during an opening run that left the Bulldogs with a 12-0 lead following her transition layup with 4:27 left in the opening frame.

"I think it's better (to play a team you don't scout) sometimes because you don't have any expectations," the Maryland-committed junior guard said. "You kind of just come out and play your game and hope that causes turnovers and you just score points."

Walnut Grove tried to stay within shouting distance, cutting what had been a 16-point North lead to as little as 25-11 after a jumper in the lane by Miaya Crowder with 7:08 left in the first half.

But Brown led a 10-2 run over the next 3:42 with four points and an assist to push the lead to 35-13 at the 2:54 mark, and she wasn't alone as Ariel Johnson and Keniesha Wilborn chipped in four points each over the final 4:22 of the half to send North into intermission with a 39-20 lead, allowing the Bulldogs to cruise home in the second half.

Johnson finished with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Wilborn added 11 points, four assists and four steals as 11 of 12 players to take the floor for North on the evening found their way into the score book.

Freshman Alyssa Munlyn also had a strong game off the bench with 10 points and four rebounds, and Sellers hopes he can get a continued all-around team game in tonight's title game against Central.

"It's not going to be an easy game for us," Sellers said. "(Central is) well coached, and ... they've got a lot of experience on the bench.

"Their players play hard and get after it the whole game, so we have to make sure we match that energy and come out and don't give up. They're really going to get after us, so we have to be prepared for that."

Crowder was Walnut Grove's only player in double figures, and finished just short of a double-double with 18 points and a game-high nine rebounds.

Grayson 39, Banneker 34

Natasia Clark scored at team-high 10 points as the Rams (1-8) picked up their first win of the season by beating the Trojans in a consolation bracket game Wednesday.

Grayson takes on Salem in the fifth-place game today at 12:10 p.m., while Banneker (2-10), which got a game-high 13 points from Tierra Gannt-Wright, fell into the seventh-place game against Chapel Hill this morning at 9.