Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
Norcross' Tori Carter (24) goes up for two as she is chased by Alpharetta's Jasmine Newsome on Wednesday.
NORCROSS — The Norcross girls are way too talented to ever be termed a one-person team. But just how much Diamond DeShields means to the defending Class AAAAA state champs was on full display Wednesday night.
With the super sophomore sitting with two fouls in the second quarter, Alpharetta went on a 13-0 run to take its only lead. With DeShields on the court, though, the second-round state tournament game was no contest.
DeShields scored 33 points despite the bench time and Norcross moved into the Class AAAAA quarterfinals with a 61-39 victory over the visiting Raiders at the House of Blue.
“I always want to be in the game,” DeShields said. “But I knew that I’d messed up getting the two fouls and they had to preserve me. It’s very easy to get another foul.”
DeShields, though, never did and Alpharetta paid.
No. 2-ranked Norcross, the Region 7-AAAAA champs, will play Milton, the No. 3 seed from 6-AAAAA, at 4 p.m. on Saturday at West Georgia with a return to the Final Four next week in the Arena at Gwinnett Center on the line.
“We’re starting to click, just like at this time last year,” DeShields said. “We have great confidence and this win gives us a lot of momentum. Alpharetta is a very good team.”
Last season, DeShields was one of two talented freshmen who helped carry a more veteran team. With Kaela Davis having transferring to Buford and the seniors gone, this is definitely DeShields’ team.
“She’s much more mature, much more heady,” Norcross coach Angie Hembree said. “She relied strictly on her athleticism last season. Now she is starting to understand the game much more and she has also become a real leader.”
But DeShields can best demonstrate that leadership when she has the basketball. On the bench, she is just an observer and cheerleader.
“When you’ve got an athlete like that and she gets in the game, the level of energy is going to come up a lot,” Hembree said. “But you’ve still got to have the players around her or it isn’t going to matter.”
Norcross (26-3) jumped to a 12-2 lead as DeShields hit her first two 3-point attempts and scored 10 points. But with the Blue Devils up 20-8 early in the second quarter, the momentum temporarily shifted.
DeShields went to the bench with her second foul and Alpharetta (22-6) took advantage. With Kylee Smith leading the way, the Raiders rallied and took their only lead at 21-20 on a free throw by Delaney Hollenbeck shortly after DeShields’ return with two minutes left in the first half.
A basket by Wake Forest signee Dearica Hamby, who had eight points, and two free throws by DeShields pushed Norcross back to a 24-21 lead, but Smith hit two shots from the line with 9.8 seconds left to pull Alpharetta with a point at halftime.
Smith had 12 points at intermission, with 10 of them coming in the turnaround second quarter. After outscoring Alpharetta 18-6 in the first quarter, Norcross was outscored 17-6 in the second.
Of course, DeShields wasn’t on he court for most of the second quarter. With her not drawing another foul, Norcross outscored Alpharetta 37-16 in the second half.
Alpharetta didn’t score in the first four minutes after halftime and trailed 36-30 going into the final quarter, when DeShields and Norcross really took off.
The 6-foot-1 guard scored 18 fourth-quarter points before going to the bench amid a standing ovation with 1:14 remaining. By then, Norcross led 56-37.
Three of DeShields’ 11 baskets were 3-pointers and she was 8-for-11 from the foul line in winning her personal battle with AAU teammate Smith, who finished with 18 points for Alpharetta.
“We know a lot about each other’s games and we’ve always wanted to guard each other,” DeShields said. “It was a good match-up. It was great competition. They played her tight on me and she did a good job.”
But Smith didn’t come close to stopping her friend. Outside of foul trouble, maybe nothing can.
Alpharetta, which beat South Gwinnett 40-35 in the first round, came in as a No. 2 seed from Region 6-AAAAA after a 36-35 loss to Roswell in the title game and were tied with the Hornets for No. 8 in the coaches poll.
Milton, the third-place finisher from 6-AAAAA, is ranked No. 10 and has state tournament wins over Parkview and Etowah.
“We’re looking forward to playing them,” DeShields said. “I know that I’ll have to try to stay out of foul trouble. My teammates helped bail me out this time.”
Actually, DeShields bailed her teammates out be not committing any more fouls and staying on the court once she returned.
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