SUWANEE -- Points were difficult to find for both teams in Friday's Region 7-AAAAA battle between North Gwinnett and Mill Creek.
Fortunately for the host Bulldogs, they were able to find just enough scoring from their two usual main sources in the second half.
Chris Bolden scored 10 of his game-high 23 points in the third quarter to give North the lead for good, and A.J. Clements scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth to help the Bulldogs keep it and hold on for a 46-41 upset of the No. 4 state-ranked Hawks.
"It was a flat-out battle all the way around," coach Zach Smith said after the Bulldogs (15-8, 10-2) gave him his first victory over Mill Creek (17-5, 8-4) after four straight losses to the Hawks since becoming head coach at North, which stayed just a game back of region-leading Norcross. "(Mill Creek) battled. They're a very good, very well-coached team. (Bolden and Clements) stepped up (offensively), and we made stops. Until the last minute of the game, we gave up 12 points in the second half. That's incredible focus and 'want to' on defense. That's what it boiled down to."
While North was able to find a couple of sources for points, Mill Creek had a much tougher time, as Hawks coach Chad Rogers noted.
"I can sum this up really easily," Rogers said. "We were 1 of 16 behind the 3-point line, and we couldn't score inside. That ain't too good of a combination."
The Hawks were scoring enough to lead most of the first half.
Four different players scored during a 9-2 run over the final 3:16 of the first quarter to leave Mill Creek with a 13-7 lead when James Holder hit the team's only 3-pointer of the night to beat the quarter buzzer.
After North tied the scored at 17-all midway through the second quarter, the Hawks rolled off the final seven points of the first half -- again from four different scorers -- to take their biggest lead of the game into intermission at 24-17.
The lead was still seven at 26-19 before Bolden began to heat up.
The 6-foot-2 Georgia Tech-bound senior drained a pair of 3-pointers -- two of his five baskets from behind the arc on the evening -- and scored 10 points during a 12-0 run that vaulted North into the lead at 31-26 following his second trey with 2:18 left in the third quarter.
Mill Creek tried to answer, as Trevon Shaw and Paul Evans each drove the lane for layups over the final 1:48 of the period to pull the Hawks to as close as 31-30 heading into the final frame.
But Bolden hit another 3-pointer from almost the identical spot on the floor as his previous two just 16 seconds into the fourth quarter, and Clements followed with a steal and coast-to-coast layup and a 3-pointer to cap an 8-0 run that extended the Bulldogs' lead to 39-30 with 5:37 remaining.
Mill Creek tried to give itself a chance late, pulling as close as 46-41 after back-to-back drives by Jalen Bracey -- the first a three-point play -- with 16 seconds left.
The Hawks had a chance to pull even closer after Shaw stole North's attempted inbound pass and was fouled by Clements.
They had three shots to try to cut into the lead, but Evans' 3-pointer from the corner rimmed out, and attempted stickbacks by Shaw and Bracey wouldn't go down before Kwesi Abakah finally corralled the rebound for North with 1.9 seconds left to seal the win.
Bolden also had six rebounds, two assists and two steals to go along with his scoring, while Abakah (seven rebounds), Tobias Howard (five points, six rebounds, three assists) and Kameron Calhoun (two points, eight rebounds, two blocked shots and three steals) also contributed to the win.
Sophomore Chase Duffy gave Mill Creek a boost off the bench with a team high 10 points and eight rebounds, while Evans added eight points and seven rebounds, Shaw chipped in eight points and six boards and Bracey finished with five points, four rebounds, five assists and three steals.