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Defense propels North girls to Jared Cook championship

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman North Gwinnett's Lexie Brown (4) is fouled while driving to the basket by Central Gwinnett's Caryn Ivey (24) during the first half of Thursday's final in the Jared Cook Holiday Classic.
 Staff Photo: Jason Braverman North Gwinnett's Peyton Whitted (25) drives to the basket as Central Gwinnett's Lexus Travis defends her during the finals of the Jared Cook Holiday Classic on Thursday. 

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman North Gwinnett's Lexie Brown (4) is fouled while driving to the basket by Central Gwinnett's Caryn Ivey (24) during the first half of Thursday's final in the Jared Cook Holiday Classic. Staff Photo: Jason Braverman North Gwinnett's Peyton Whitted (25) drives to the basket as Central Gwinnett's Lexus Travis defends her during the finals of the Jared Cook Holiday Classic on Thursday. 

SUWANEE -- It was billed as the girls championship of the Third Annual Jared Cook Holiday Classic, but it turned into a North Gwinnett highlight show as the Bulldogs rolled over Central Gwinnett 53-14.

Never trailing and always in control, North (6-1) was clicking on all cylinders as the Bulldogs enjoyed an easy run to the title.

North led just 14-8 after the first quarter as Central found a way to break the Bulldogs' full-court press that produced some dribble-drive baskets.

But North turned to its half-court defense to eventually force Central into 22 turnovers for the game and changed the complexion of the game in a hurry.

It was the second quarter that North outscored Central 25-2 and took a six-point lead and blew the game wide open with a 39-10 lead at the half.

"We came out with a lot of energy and focus. But I thought Central was doing a good job of breaking our press early and we had to get out of our full-court press," said North head coach Bryan Sellers. "So we had to go to our half-court man and we were able to use our quickness to create some turnovers and easy baskets."

North relied primarily on three weapons in the decisive second quarter as Ariel Johnson, Lexie Brown and Peyton Whitted combined for 23 of the Bulldogs' 25 points to build the 29-point lead and put the game away.

Johnson, who finished with a game-high 16 points, scored 11 in the second quarter while Brown had seven and Whitted five for the Bulldogs.

North also connected on five three-pointers in the second period as the Bulldogs distributed the ball well along the perimeter to find the open shot and also got some easy fast-break baskets.

Meanwhile, the North defense continued to stifle the Central offense as the Black Knights managed just six total points after the opening quarter.

Central got a lone field goal from Shantaja Latimore to go along with four total free throws for the final three quarters,

Latimore led Central (4-7) with seven points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.

Lexus Travis added four points, all in the first quarter, for Central.

For North, Brown finished with 14 points, seven assists, five steals and two rebounds while Whitted had six points, seven rebounds, two assists, three blocks and two steals.

"We're just trying to get ready for region play at this point of the season," said Sellers. "Those are the games that really count and we're trying to get better before those games get started. We're trying to be region champs and state champs -- those are our goals. All these non-region games are games we use to prepare for region."