Staff Photo: John Bohn Mill Creek's Paul Evans (4) works for a rebound with North Gwinnett's AJ Clements (22) during the first period of Tuesday's game.
HOSCHTON -- Carrying the weight of two losses in a three-game stretch, the Mill Creek boys basketball team also spent the better part of two Region 7-AAAAA games as the chaser.
The fourth-ranked Hawks never led Peachtree Ridge in a tight loss last Friday and trailed North Gwinnett for nearly four quarters Tuesday night. Through it all, they never quit.
They finally got a lead in the fourth quarter against North, eventually forced overtime and pulled out a 71-70 win over the Bulldogs, who lost their first region game. Mill Creek led 71-67 when North's Chris Bolden hit a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"We didn't panic," Mill Creek boys coach Chad Rogers said. "My kids are resilient. You can't deny that. They're resilient."
Twice in the Hawks' chase Tuesday they drew even, the first on a four-point play by Paul Evans (17 points) just past the midway point in the third quarter. Evans' shot made the hosts 7-for-7 from the field in the third, but North (8-7, 4-1) kept opening small leads back up.
The breakthrough came with 2:39 left in the fourth quarter, when Jalen Bracey made a steal and ensuing three-point play for a 62-60 lead. He made two free throws just before that play, pulling the Hawks ahead for a moment until Bolden answered with a steal and dunk to tie the score with 2:02 left.
But Bolden's bucket provided the last points of the fourth. The Georgia Tech signee, after a Mill Creek turnover, had the final shot in regulation as time expired, but his heavily contested turnaround in the lane was off the mark.
After four quarters, Mill Creek (12-2, 3-1) was dead even again. And confident.
"We were going to keep coming at them," said Bracey, who had 17 points and five assists. "We play 'D' the whole game. We don't quit on 'D.' We play the fourth quarter with the same intensity as the beginning of the game."
Overtime brought a nice change for the Hawks as they never trailed. After Daniel Braschler's go-ahead layup with 2:22 left, they never relinquished the lead.
Bracey made a pair of big free throws with 23 seconds remaining for a 69-65 lead and Bolden missed a 3-pointer on the next trip. Bracey added two more free throws in the final 10 seconds for a 71-67 lead until Bolden's game-ending 3-pointer, North's only field goal of overtime, closed the gap.
Bolden had a game-high 22 points and nine rebounds despite heavy defensive pressure from the Hawks. He scored nine first-quarter points, but was held mostly in check the remainder of the game as Kamaran Calhoun (12 points, five rebounds) and Jordan Brown (12 points off the bench) picked up some of the offensive load. In addition to Bracey and Evans (who went out late in OT after hitting his head on the floor), Mill Creek got 14 points and eight rebounds from Daniel Loudermilk and 10 points and eight boards from Trevon Shaw.
It was a hard-fought battle for the Hawks, who started the season 11-0 until their recent slide.
"We didn't panic," Bracey said. "Our mindset was go to practice, work hard and try not to lose any more games. We didn't want to lose two out of three, but we didn't panic."