NORCROSS – The boys’ Class AAAAAA championship banner was unfurled from the rafters after the girls’ title bunting, prompting the Norcross student section to begin a chant.
“We rule the state!” they yelled over and over Tuesday night as the ceremonies came to an end.
Soon they became even giddier.
Andre Chatfield hit five 3-pointers in as many first-quarter attempts and it looked like Norcross might romp to any easy victory over Mill Creek in its Region 7-AAAAAA basketball opener.
The Hawks, though, had other ideas and put a scare into the Blue Devils before wilting late in the 76-66 Norcross victory.
“I wish we could have played better, but I’ll take the win,” Norcross coach Jesse McMillan said. “Any time you can get a region victory, it’s good.”
Short-handed because of football and injuries, Norcross (2-1) trailed by five points late in the third quarter before finally overcoming a valiant effort by the Hawks (1-3).
“Obviously, we’re not a full strength and have some things to work on,” said McMillan, whose team opened the season by splitting a pair of games in a showcase at Jacksonville, Fla.
Chatfield, headed to Harvard, finished with 22 points — 17 in the first quarter. Fellow senior Khalen Pinkett finished with 19 points and junior Ricky Madison scored 18. Pinkett had 10 points in the decisive fourth quarter and Madison nine.
Down 47-42, Norcross finished the third quarter with six straight points to take the lead and went on a 15-2 run led by Madison and Pinkett to go up 67-56. Madison completed a 3-point play after a dunk and hit a 3-pointer to punctuate the run.
Norcross, which used just eight players, won the game at the foul line, going 23-for-31. Pinkett was 9-for-12.
Davion Clark scored 13 points, including a 3-pointer for Mill Creek’s last lead at 54-52, but ended up fouling out. Keetone Glover had 10 points, nine in the first half, while Shaheim Powell scored eight and Ryan Dobbs added seven.
Mill Creek shuttled 13 players in and out of the game and 11 scored.
Norcross, which has five state boys titles, led 20-9 and was up 22-15 at the end of the first quarter behind Chatfield’s hot shooting. But Mill Creek used a 13-3 run to take a 28-25 lead and it was tied at 34 when Glover drove and scored at the halftime buzzer.
The Blue Devils play at North Gwinnett on Thursday in a game moved up a day because of the football playoffs and then faces Alabama power Wenonah on Saturday in the Nike Explosion at Wheeler.
Norcross girls 53,
Mill Creek 43
Allison Johnson scored 17 points off the bench and Kolby Meeks had nine rebounds as the Norcross girls (4-1) opened Region 7-AAAAAA play with a 53-43 victory over Mill Creek (3-1).
Meredith Schulte had 16 points, Madison Phillips 14 and Ashley Gayle 11 for Mill Creek, which was coming off a championship in the Tabo’s Tipoff at Jefferson. The Hawks, though, couldn’t match the Blue Devils depth.
Norcross, which lost to state contender McEachern in its previous game, had seven players score to four for Mill Creek and forced a flood of Hawks turnovers while also controlling the boards. Bria Williams and freshman Tylia Gillespie each had eight points and Sierra Butler scored seven before fouling out.
The Blue Devils, who have won three of the past four girls state titles, used a 16-0 run stretching from the first quarter into the second to turn an 8-7 lead into 24-7. Mill Creek, however, rallied within 27-21 at halftime and was just three down when Schulte hit a 3-pointer to start the second half.
Norcross regained control, though, and led 41-26 going into the final quarter before Mill Creek made a final run. The Hawks were within five points with 59.2 seconds left thanks to a pair of 3-pointers by Phillips. Williams hit four foul shots and Gillespie had a late steal and basket.
Norcross will play at North Gwinnett – the team the Blue Devils defeated for the state title in March – in a game rescheduled for Thursday. Mill Creek hosts Meadowcreek on Friday and Duluth on Saturday.