SUWANEE -- Both teams in Tuesday night's Region 7-AAAAAA boys basketball clash between North Gwinnett and Collins Hill went through major offensive dry spells.
The Bulldogs seemed to pick the more inopportune time to have theirs with it occurring the fourth quarter.
But despite being held without a field goal in the final frame, Malik Carter's free throw with 6.8 seconds left was just enough to help North overcome letting a 17-point lead slip away to eke out a 54-53 road win.
Despite being outscored 20-4 in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs closed out their regular season at 19-5 overall and 13-3 in the region, and enter next week's region tournament guaranteed of no worse than the No. 3 seed.
However, North coach Zach Smith would prefer to see his team head into the tournament with the same intensity it showed in the early going than down the stretch.
"At this point, nothing else matters except the region tournament," Smith said. "Our record is what it is, but that's behind us. ... We played well in the first two and a half quarters. The last quarter and a half, we laid an egg mentally, both offensively and defensively."
The Bulldogs were particularly sharp following a first quarter that ended with them holding a 16-13 lead.
With leading scorer Devin Mitchell out for the game due to undisclosed team issues, Collins Hill (16-8, 10-5) turned to Darius Joell to pick up the offensive slack, and he did by scoring nine of his game-high 25 points in the first quarter.
But North did a better job of denying the 6-foot-1 senior and his teammates in the second quarter, holding the Eagles scoreless for a 6:08 span that carried over from the first quarter and eventually took a 29-20 lead into halftime.
That momentum carried over into the third quarter as Owen Lewis, T.J. Howard, Kam Calhoun and reserve Eric Hamilton each scored four points in the period to help the Bulldogs to their biggest lead at 50-33 heading into the final frame.
Even after a Joell 3-pointer and a foul-line jumper from Amadi Stephens in the first 51 seconds of the fourth quarter, North's lead looked fairly safe at 51-38 following an Ahmad Caver free throw with 6:11 remaining.
But that was the last point the Bulldogs would score for the next 4:31, while Collins Hill picked things up on both ends of the court.
Joncarlos Reyes had a good portion of his eight rebounds and six blocked shots on the night, while Joell and Eric Ambrosio combined for 12 points as the Eagles reeled off an 18-1 run tied the game at 51-all following Joell's driving layup with 1:40 to play.
"Our defense picked up in the fourth," Eagles coach Eric Nathan said. "That turned into offense and really turned our energy up. ... (Coming back from big deficits) is nothing new to us. The problem is getting down."
With the game tied at 53-all, the Bulldogs tried to hold off for the last shot, and got a break when Carter was fouled in the lane with 6.8 seconds left.
The 6-6 sophomore missed the first of the two free throw, but rattled home the second to put North back on top at 54-53, and Joell's off-balance 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer was off the mark to stop Collins Hill's comeback attempt just short and allow the Bulldogs to escape with the win.
North got plenty of balanced scoring, with seven of the eight players who took the floor contributing at least five points, led by 10 each from Howard and Calhoun, who also added four assists apiece. Meanwhile, Lewis finished with seven points and eight rebounds, while Hamilton chipped in six points and six boards.
No other Collins Hill player besides Joell reached double figures, but Ambrosio contributed nine points and two assists, while Awbrey Rucker chipped in eight points and five boards.
North girls 85, Collins Hill 25
Lexie Brown had 27 points, seven assists and seven steals as the Bulldogs (22-1, 15-1) rolled past the Eagles (6-18, 2-13) on Tuesday at Collins Hill.
Peyton Whitted also had a big night with 18 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Baylee Rexing added 15 points for North.
Sydney Brown scored nine points to lead Collins Hill.