Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett's Lexi Brown (4) drives the ball while double covered by Norcross players Bri Williams (13) and Patrice Butler. Brown scored 30 points during the game. North Gwinnett defeated Norcross 69-41.
SUWANEE -- Diamond DeShields sat on the Norcross bench in a sweat suit, her left wrist still in a cast.
That hardly meant, though, that there wasn't star power on display in the showdown for first place and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Region 7-AAAAA girls tournament.
In any other region, county or even state, North Gwinnett's Lexie Brown would be the player everyone was talking about. On Friday night, she showed why.
Shaking off the effects of a recent bout with mono, the junior guard had 30 points, eight assists, six steals and five rebounds as No. 4-ranked North routed the two-time defending Class AAAAA state champions 69-41 to the delight of its fans at the Dawg Pound.
"As far as I'm concerned, Lexie is the state player of the year," coach Bryan Sellars said. "I know only one person can get it and there is so much talent here. But Lexie is a big-time player. She's special."
Brown, who has committed to Maryland, missed three recent games and part of another. But you certainly wouldn't have known she had been sick the way she played against Norcross.
"I started to get my wind back a game ago, but my shots hadn't been falling," Brown said. "It felt good to see them finally starting to go in."
Brown was 4 of 8 from behind the 3-point arc and 9 of 17 from inside. Best yet for No. 4-ranked North, her teammates were also red-hot.
North (21-3, 13-1) shot 55 percent overall and made 9 of 16 3-pointers.
"This was a statement game for us," Brown said. "If we'd just barely beaten Norcross, everyone would have thought it was just because Diamond was out. We wanted to show that we could beat them with or without her."
DeShields may be back for the region tournament next week and that is when the games will really start counting. North defeated Norcross twice in the regular season a year ago, but lost in the region title game.
"Our goal is the region championships and then a state championship," Brown said.
Even though DeShields was hurt early in their first meeting, Norcross (20-5, 12-2) won 48-37 on Jan. 17 with the Blue Devils' junior star playing mostly one-handed. That was, in part, because Norcross had taken control early. This time the Bulldogs bit fast and kept chomping.
"I'm really proud of the team," Sellars said. "It's big any time you can beat a team like Norcross."
North scored the game's first seven points as Jordan Hyatt followed an opening 3-pointer by Baylee Rexing with two baskets and the lead was soon 12-4.
Norcross closed to within 14-11 entering the second quarter, but Brown scored seven quick points to push the North lead back to eight at 23-15.
With Brown going for nine more points, the Bulldogs pushed their lead to 51-31 at the end of the third quarter and led by as many as 28 points in the fourth quarter as Brown scored 10 more before departing to a standing ovation from North supporters with a little less than two minutes to play.
Ariel Johnson hit a pair of 3-pointers for North and finished with 12 points. Peyton Whitted scored eight, while Hyatt had six points and seven rebounds. Rexing contributed five assists.
Shayla Cooper had 13 points to lead Norcross, which was upset at Mill Creek on Tuesday. Tori Carter scored 11 and Jasmine Kemp added eight.
Buford's Kaela Davis, DeShields and Brown are among the top juniors in the nation. Playing within miles of each other in the same county, that means a shared spotlight.
"Sometimes I get overlooked, but we're all friends and love each other," Brown said. "We all get attention, so it isn't a problem. It's great to be around such great players.
"I know that Diamond wants to get back for the region tournament and I hope she doesn't. It's a challenge to play her, but we're ready for it."