Staff Photo by: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett's Lexie Brown (4) drives to the basket against South Gwinnett's Samantha McCombs (21) during the first round of AAAAA girls basketball playoffs at North Gwinnett High School on Friday.
SUWANEE -- Ariel Johnson was non-committal on the lottery ticket, but she admitted it was a consideration.
The North Gwinnett point guard celebrated her 18th birthday Friday in a big way, opening North's playoff run with a pair of 3-pointers, scoring the game's first seven points, and the Bulldogs never looked back in a 67-29 over South Gwinnett.
"It got us off to a great start," Johnson said of the quick buckets. "It let us come out strong. We just kept on driving from there."
"I was kind of wondering how she was going to come out," North head coach Bryan Sellers said of Johnson. But he got his answer quickly and for the rest of the game with Johnson ending her birthday night with 14 points off three 3s.
The win keeps the Bulldogs unbeaten at home on the year and sets them up for a road game next Tuesday at Woodstock in the second round.
"We were fortunate to have a home game," Sellers said.
Following Johnson's barrage, both teams struggled with jump shots. Lexie Brown scored on a layup off a stolen pass and South's Tiffany Jenkins had a put back near the rim. The Bulldogs kept the early lead even after the Comets' Samantha McCombs hit a 3-pointer to end the quarter.
North's nine-point first-quarter lead swelled to 18 in the first 90 seconds of the second quarter. Brown picked off two more passes for layups, Jordan Hyatt added a basket and Peyton Whitted scored three points in the 9-0 run that gave the Bulldogs a 25-7 lead. Brown led all scorers with 18 points, she stole six passes and handed out five assists, despite not playing the final four minutes. Whitted scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Bulldogs.
For the rest of the quarter, the 18 points stood, Brown hit two 3s and Kenisha Wilborn knocked down another for the Bulldogs. South got five more points from McCombs in the second quarter, but trailed 36-17 at the half. McCombs led the Comets with 13 points and Tiffany Jenkins scored 11.
The lead increased in the third quarter, with North's defense allowing just five South points and forcing four turnovers.
"We played a little sloppy defensively at times," Sellers said, noting the second-chance baskets for the Comets. "We emphasized boxing out and rebounding all week."
The Bulldogs finished off the Comets early in the fourth quarter, scoring the first 13 points. Baylee Rexing scored five points in the stretch, including a 3-pointer and Johnson and Brown each hit a 3-pointer.
Johnson ended the game on the bench, but planned to spend the night with her family, including visiting grandparents from Alabama.
"My grandmother makes the best cakes and she brought one," Johnson said.