Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross's Diamond DeShields (22) wipes tears from her eyes after Norcross was defeated by McEachern 64-6 in a girls Class AAAAA state basketball semifinal game played Thursday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Norcross VS McEachern
Norcross plays McEachern in the Class AAAAA state semifinal game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
DULUTH -- By the end, the Norcross girls basketball team was a battered bunch.
Star Diamond DeShields entered Thursday's Class AAAAA semifinal with her broken wrist wrapped and bandages covering stitches in two places on her head, and then injured her shoulder in the third quarter. Kolby Meeks went down early and never returned and Jasmine Kemp left in the waning seconds with a wrenched knee, an injury occurred at the same time Shayla Cooper lay on the court with cramping calves.
Yet despite all the pain and an off night from DeShields (nine points for Gwinnett's leading scorer), the Blue Devils still had a chance against McEachern, ranked third nationally by USA Today.
The two-time defending state champions attempted a pair of potential game-tying, 3-pointers in the final seven seconds, but both were off the mark as McEachern reached today's state championship game with a 64-61 win at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Norcross (26-6), which fell behind 9-0 early and never led, still put a serious scare with a comeback against the unbeaten Indians.
"I'm so proud of them, they fought to the end," Norcross girls coach Angie Hembree said of her players, who trailed by as many as 13 points early in the fourth quarter. "They've been like that all year. They're going to fight you to the end. ... They're devastated. They take a lot of pride in our team and they're not used to this. The last two years they've won their last game. But they still have a lot to be proud of."
McEachern (32-0) went scoreless for a near four-minute span in the fourth quarter, allowing Norcross to get within reach for the first time since the opening tip. Jasmine Kemp, who had 10 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter, scored with 2:56 left to close the gap to 57-54.
Norcross then went to the line twice in the next minute with chances to tie or go ahead, but made only 1 of 4 free throws to close within two points.
"Missing those free throws was the big thing that hurt us," Hembree said. "If we hit those, we're tied or ahead."
The Blue Devils kept charging though, forcing a turnover with 24 seconds left and trailing 64-61. DeShields air-balled a 3-pointer that went out of bounds with 6.8 seconds left, but Norcross forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass.
That set up a 3-point attempt by Shayla Cooper, who was knocked on her back by a McEachern defender but no foul was called. Her missed shot trickled out of bounds and took Norcross' hopes of defending its title with it.
"They could have called a foul but with 10 seconds left, the referee's not going to dictate the game," Cooper said.
DeShields got off to a slow start and never bounced back. The highly touted junior was scoreless and 0-for-6 from the floor at halftime and finished 3-for-15 from the field, including 1-for-7 from 3-point range.
Her nine-point night was well off her near 22-point average. While she wasn't scoring at her normal pace, she did have a game-high 13 rebounds, four assists and three steals.
"(DeShields) is one of the best players in the country and she's out there playing with a broken wrist, with stitches in her head and stitches behind her ear, and she's still playing her heart out," Hembree said. "That shows how much she cares about her teammates."
Those teammates stepped up offensively in the championship game and made sure Norcross had its chance at a victory.
Cooper had 18 points and eight rebounds, scoring 12 of her team's points in the first half and allowing them to stay with 29-19 at halftime. Tori Carter had 14 points and three assists and Kemp had six rebounds with her 12 points. Patrice Butler also had five important points off the bench.
DeShields scored six in the fourth-quarter comeback, too, but it fell just short.
"That comeback shows we've got a lot of heart," Cooper said. "We've got a lot of trust in each other and we fought our heart out to the end of the game."
McEachern, which faces the North Gwinnett-Hillgrove winner in the finals, got a game-high 21 points from Dominique Wilson. Te'A Cooper scored 18 for the Indians and Pachiyanna Roberts added 11 points.