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Calhoun, Howard lead North boys hoops past Peachtree Ridge

SUWANEE — There's no question where Monday's Region 7-AAAAAA boys basketball clash between North Gwinnett and Peachtree Ridge was decided.

The visiting Lions were nearly perfect from the free-throw line, but the host Bulldogs were nearly as good, and they had sheer volume on their side to pull away in the fourth quarter for a 61-55 victory.

North finished the night 31 of 40 (77.5 percent) from the charity stripe, with Kam Calhoun (18 points, six rebounds, three blocked shots) and T.J. Howard (17 points, five assists) combining to hit 21 of 23 free throws to help the Bulldogs improve to 9-1 overall and 6-0 in region play.

"When your shots are not falling, you go to the basket," said Calhoun, who was a perfect 11-for-11 from the line, including hitting seven straight as part of his 11 fourth-quarter points. "We shoot a good percentage from the free-throw line, so we just attack the basket and try to knock them down."

The Bulldogs needed to use that strategy because Peachtree Ridge (3-5, 2-2) was determined not to let them get out in transition.

And the Lions did a good job of that most of the evening by holding North to just 13 field goals, only three of which came via the fast break.

"We struggled getting continuity any in our offense," North coach Zach Smith said. "Of course (Peachtree Ridge does) a good job on defense. They do every year and every game. They always play hard, and they do a good job scouting. … So, we had a hard time getting buckets in the first half. The second half we kind of planned to get to the free throw line."

And following a first half which featured four lead changes and four ties and ended with the Lions leading 23-22, that's exactly what the Bulldogs did.

But not before Peachtree Ridge got a tap-in from Amir Warnock and a 3-pointer from Brandon Johnson to take its biggest lead of the game at 35-30 with 1:24 left in the third quarter.

Malik Carter quickly answered with a 3-pointer 17 seconds later, and Calhoun knocked down a pair of free throws — two of eight points the Bulldogs from the line in the period — with 45.2 seconds left to send the two teams into the fourth quarter tied at 35-apiece.

North then hit five of its first six attempts from the line in the opening 1:56 of the fourth quarter to take a 42-41 lead on two more Calhoun free throws with 6:04 to play.

But after Johnson finished a fast break with a layup to give the Lions a 43-42 lead at the 5:54 mark, the Bulldogs finally got their own running game going, to an extent, over the next two and a half minutes.

Steals from from Ahmad Caver, Calhoun and Howard helped lead to transition buckets by Carter and two more from Calhoun to ignite an 11-2 run over that span, capped by Carter's baseline jumper with 3:13 left, to balloon the North lead to 53-45.

"We actually got two people back (on fast break defense most of the night), when usually we get one back," Lions coach Keith Arrington said ."It did help us. We took that away some. They didn't hurt us as much.

"(Then) we turned it over a couple of times, which led to some easy transition (for North), and that's hard to guard against — that 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 fast break. We turned it over on a couple of in-bounds plays, which can't happen."

The Bulldogs then hit 8 of 12 from the line over the remaining 2:05 to put the game away at the line.

Carter joined Calhoun and Howard in double-figure scoring with 14 points and added a team-high eight rebounds, while Caver chipped in nine points and five steals.

Aaron Augustin led the way for Peachtree Ridge with 17 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter, and five assists, while Warnock posted a double-double with 11 points and 13 boards to go with four blocks, and Johnson scored 16 points with three steals before fouling out.