Staff Photo: John Bohn Hebron's Ryan Thomas (22) falls to the floor while defending Duluth's Ify Imachukwu (11) during an opening game in the Deep South Classic basketball tournament held at Brookwood High School on Thursday.
SNELLVILLE -- Shamus Goss has been a given so far this season as the leading scorer for Duluth's boys basketball team.
And sure enough, the senior guard did his part by scoring 20 points in the Wildcats' opener of the 2012 Deep South Classic.
But it looks like Duluth may have found another complement for Goss in the form of Ify Imachukwu, who poured in a game-high 22 points as the Wildcats built a big early lead and cruised past Hebron Christian 78-43 on Thursday at Brookwood's Gold Gymnasium.
"He'd been sick the past couple of games and not playing up to his usual ability," Duluth coach said of Imachukwu, who also led the Wildcats with eight rebounds. "But against Dacula (late last week), he had 17. So, that's back-to-back performances that were consistent.
"We've still got a long way to go because our region's pretty tough. And (Hebron) will be fine, too, down the line. (Thursday), we just had better athletes."
And the Wildcats (9-4) took advantage of that athleticism to build a huge early lead and roll into the second round against Sequoyah today at 4:30 p.m.
Hebron (3-8) took a brief lead at 3-2 when Noah Herrin drove the baseline and fed Derek Vandiver for an open 3-pointer from the left wing just 14 seconds into the game to answer Imachukwu's layup off the opening tip.
But from that point, Duluth's speed, size and athleticism took over.
The Wildcats often turned blocked shots by Ofodile and Wooten into fastbreak opportunities, and managed to find Goss in the halfcourt set for open jumpers.
All played a factor in a 15-2 run over 4:11 stretch that culminated in Goss' 3-pointer from the right wing, leaving Duluth with a 17-5 lead with 3:19 left in the first quarter.
After Ryan Thomas ended the run with a spin move in the lane that pulled the Lions to within 17-7, the Wildcats answered with a 7-1 run over the final 2:07 of the quarter, including Sabion Griffin-Bey's 3-pointer that left Duluth's lead at 24-8 by the end of the opening frame.
"Early on, Coach (Hood) wanted us to focus on defense, and that defense would lead to offense," Imachukwu said. "We took it from there. We were able to just execute and go from there."
After Tyler Matthews hit a 3-pointer to pull Hebron to within 24-11 just 14 seconds into the second quarter, it was more of the same for Duluth the rest of the first half.
Imachukwu scored on a layup, came up with a steal and fed Kai Lambert for a pair of buckets to ignite a run of 10 straight points over the next 1:18 to push the Wildcats' lead to 34-11 before taking a 44-22 lead into halftime.
Hebron kept fighting in the second half, with Cory Johnson and Noah Herrin each hit 3-pointers, and Ryan Thomas hit three of his team-high 15 points to bring the Lions as close as 52-31 with 4:14 left in the third quarter.
It represented the kind of effort coach Will Cantrell was pleased to see from his Lions, especially with leading scorer Tyler Skidgel battling a flu bug.
"We're a little banged up right now," Cantrell said. "And in our situation, we're not that deep. So, when you take our leading scorer off the floor, that hurts us.
"We dug ourselves a hole early. Going up against a team that much more athletic than you are, you can't dig yourselves that big a hole and expect to come out of it. But I was proud of our kids. They worked hard. ... There was no back down."
But Imachukwu and Duluth made sure there would be no Hebron comeback, as the Wildcats reeled off 11 straight points over the next 1:43 to extend the lead to 63-31 and they cruised to their ninth win of the season, already surpassing their total from all of last season.
While Imachukwu and Goss, who also had a game-high five assists, were the only two players in double figures, Duluth also got contributions from Ofodile, who had six points, five rebounds, six blocked shots and three assists, plus Lambert's eight points and seven boards off the bench.
Thomas was Hebron's only double-figure scorer, but the Lions also got nine points from Johnson, plus eight each from Herrin and Vandiver. Herrin also dished out a team-high three assists.
Model (girls) 50, Hebron 27
Hebron (4-5) trailed Class AA powerhouse Model (6-2) by just 12-9 after the first quarter, with all six points coming on 3-pointers from Amber Skidgel.
But the Blue Devils outscored the Lions 28-13 in the middle two quarters to pull away and advance to a second-round meeting with the Sequoyah-North Oconee winner today at 3 p.m.
Carla Clemmons led Model with 14 points, while Timia Reynolds added 12 and Karlee Akins chipped in 10.
Skidgel led the Lions, who will take on the Sequoyah-North Oconee loser at 7:30 p.m., and all scorers with 17 points.