Staff Photo by: Brendan Sullivan Central Gwinnett's Brian Egejuru (5) takes a jump shot over North Gwinnett's TJ Howard (15) during the first round of AAAAA boys basketball playoffs at North Gwinnett High School on Friday.
SUWANEE -- When North Gwinnett head coach Zach Smith knew his Bulldogs would meet Central Gwinnett in the first round of the state tournament, he had a good idea it would be a stern test.
That's what North got Friday night as the Bulldogs hung tough down the stretch and hit key free throws in a 59-52 over Central.
With the win, North (20-9) moves into the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs against either Wheeler or Northview on Wednesday.
Central ends its season at 14-15.
Trailing 42-40 entering the fourth quarter, North used its inside presence to draw fouls and made a living at the free throw line by hitting 15 of 18.
That was a good thing for North, because the Bulldogs could only manage a pair of Chris Bolden field goals in the final quarter as North outscored Central 19-10 to pull away for the seven-point victory.
Meanwhile, Central managed a pair of three-pointers from Brian Egejuru and Darius Joell along with a two-pointer from Shaun Jones. But the Black Knights got to the free throw line six times and connected on just two.
"This time of year, it's all about just getting the win," said Smith. "I knew David (Allen) would have his team ready and that they would give us a tough challenge. That's what happened and I am proud of the way we responded, especially after (Central) shot so well in the third quarter. When things weren't going well at times tonight, we were able to battle back."
Both teams were ragged early as North led 8-7 after the first quarter and then took a 23-19 lead at the half.
But the third quarter saw the two teams heat up as Central outscored North 23-17.
Central hit four three-pointers, including two from Egejuru and one each from Joell and E-man Westmoreland.
However, North also got a 3-pointer from Danny Crawford and T.J. Howard to hang close and set up the fourth-quarter rally.
North was led by Bolden's relatively quiet 15 points while Kwesi Abakah had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Abakah also had five blocked shots.
Howard finished with 10 points for North and Kam Calhoun had eight, including 5 of 6 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
Egejuru led Central with 14 points, including three 3-pointers, and Westmoreland had 13.