Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Peachtree Ridge's Benny Johnson (11) scores two as he charges past Mill Creek's Jalen Bracey (2) on Friday.
SUWANEE — Friday night’s Region 7-AAAAA clash between Peachtree Ridge and Mill Creek came down to two things.
The host Lions owned the paint, and just as importantly, owned the fourth quarter.
Corey Heyward scored 10 of his game-high 16 points in the final frame and Peachtree Ridge cashed in on nearly half of its fourth-quarter points from the foul line to pull away for an important 65-54 victory.
The win keeps the Lions (10-3, 3-1) tied with No. 5 state-ranked North Gwinnett just a half-game behind sixth-ranked Collins Hill for the region lead.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of once we’ve got you, we’ve been able to hold you off,” Peachtree Ridge coach Keith Arrington said. “When you’re a guard-oriented team like we are, you ought to be able to do that.”
It took a while for the Lions to gain the advantage after Mill Creek jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, and led by as much as 11-3 after a layup by Daniel Braschler with 4:08 left in the first quarter.
Peachtree Ridge fought back to trail by just to at the end of the quarter, but then surged ahead during a see-saw second to take a 28-26 lead into intermission after Daryan Griffin capped a 6-0 run with a runner off the glass with 4 seconds left in the half.
Two more shifts in momentum saw the Lions take as much as a nine-point lead in the third quarter before Mill Creek answered.
Paul Evans scored four of his 13 points on the evening to ignite a 9-1 run over a 1:38 span to pull the Hawks to within 38-37 with 1:35 left in the period.
But that’s when Peachtree Ridge really began to establish its dominance in the lane.
First, Benny Johnson drove the lane, avoided two defenders and scooped in a layup with 24 seconds left.
Then, Heyward penetrated the lane before dishing off to Brandon Jack for a layup with 7 seconds remaining to send the Lions into the fourth quarter with a 42-37 lead.
“We got beat inside the line (Friday) night — bad,” said Mill Creek (9-5, 2-2) coach Chad Rogers, whose team trails the region leaders by just 11⁄2 games. “They killed us by getting in the lane ... and they got some late 3s on kickouts. We didn’t do a good job stopping dual penetration, and they beat us off the dribble more than we beat them.”
The Lions continued to work inside out in the final frame, and Heyward was at the forefront.
The 6-foot-1 senior finished off a pass from Johnson in transition just 39 seconds into the final quarter, and then took one of those kickouts from Johnson before draining 3-pointer from the right wing on Peachtree Ridge’s next possession.
A free throw by Heyward and another transition basket by Johnson later in the period, and the Lions had an 8-2 run that pushed their lead to 50-39 with 5:38 to play.
“It’s all about conditioning,” said the Morehead State-bound Heyward, who added five rebounds, three assists and two steals to his totals Friday. “Everybody’s built up their endurance, and we’ve got a good rotation of guards.”
Mill Creek tried to stay within shouting distance, pulling as close as eight points twice, the last time at 61-53 when Jelan Bracey hit 1 of 2 free throws with 40.5 seconds left.
But the Hawks let several opportunities to cut into the lead further slip away by missing 7 of 11 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter. Mill Creek was just 5 of 17 from the line for the game.
Meanwhile, Peachtree Ridge cashed on 11 of 16 free-throw attempts in the fourth, including 11 of 12 in the final 2:36 — the final six straight by Eric Ryba — to put the game away.
Johnson joined Heyward in double figures with 14 points and added four steals, while Jack contributed 12 points and a team-best six rebounds, and Griffin and Ryba chipped in nine points each.
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