SUWANEE — The stars turned out Friday night — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, a possible first-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft among them — for Peachtree Ridge’s big showdown with North Gwinnett.
Ryan, an offensive guy, drew the most attention from spectators, but Heyward, a tenacious defensive lineman, got the most enjoyment out of what happened on the basketball court.
His little brother Corey Heyward scored a game-high 19 points and he watched the Peachtree Ridge boys’ hustling defense stifle North in a 54-40 victory that gave the Lions sole possession of first place in Region 7-AAAAA.
“We quit being passive defensively and got some pressure on them in the second half and at the end of the second quarter,” Peachtree Ridge boys coach Keith Arrington said of his defense. “That’s who we are. We have to do it. We have to put pressure on people. If we let them slow it down and throw it inside, we’d be in trouble.”
What the Lions (13-3, 6-1) lack in size, they make up for in effort.
They forced North into 16 turnovers over the final three quarters, grabbing control of the game in the second quarter and extending their lead in the second half.
They went on an 8-0 run to end the second quarter and made it a 19-2 spurt with a quick start to the third. North (12-4, 5-2) was held to a season-low by far (54 was the previous low), and didn’t come close to its season scoring average of 69.2.
Peachtree Ridge, which avenged a Dec. 7 loss to North, had a considerable advantage with its deep bench, which outscored North’s reserves 10-2 and outrebounded them 10-1.
“I think our depth helped us a lot,” Arrington said. “We’ve got eight (kids) that are pretty strong now.”
Heyward got off to a hot start offensively, keeping the hosts close while North took a lead as large as six points in the second quarter. That’s when the Lions reeled off the 8-0 run to close the half, which was capped by Heyward’s third 3-pointer of the half in the waning seconds.
Moe Armistead scored seven points during an 11-2 run to open the third quarter and the lead didn’t shrink to single digits until late in the fourth quarter. North got within 47-40 with 1:40 left, but didn’t score again.
The two teams were tied for first place in 7-AAAAA until Friday.
“We’re at the halfway point (of region play) so it doesn’t mean much (to be in first place),” Arrington said. “Of course we’re glad to be there. But we’ve got to go to Norcross, to Collins Hill, to Mill Creek. There are a lot of good teams in this region. You may be winning now but next week you could be sad.”
Armistead had 11 points, while the Lions also got good games from Benny Johnson (seven points), Brandon Jack (five points, seven rebounds) and Shaq Morris (five points, four rebounds, four steals). Eric Ryba also had five rebounds off the bench.
Cyrus Lavant led North with 14 points. Kwesi Abakah had eight points and 11 rebounds and Clayton Williams added eight points and six rebounds.