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Norcross defense shuts down Berkmar

Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross' Lorenzo Carter (22) celebrates his fourth period dunk against Berkmar, during a boys basketball Class AAAAAA quarter final state tournament game played at Norcross. Norcross defeated Berkmar 56-35.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross' Lorenzo Carter (22) celebrates his fourth period dunk against Berkmar, during a boys basketball Class AAAAAA quarter final state tournament game played at Norcross. Norcross defeated Berkmar 56-35.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross' Brandon Goodwin (11) shoots over Berkmar's James Sanders (15) during the third period of a boys basketball Class AAAAAA quarter final state tournament game played at Norcross. Norcross defeated Berkmar 56-35.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross' Khalen Pinkett (3) scores while Berkmar's Malcolm Hannah (2) watches during the third period of a boys basketball Class AAAAAA quarter final state tournament game played at Norcross. Norcross defeated Berkmar 56-35.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross' Terrance O'Donohue (15) guards Berkmar's C.J. Foster during the second period of a boys basketball Class AAAAAA quarter final state tournament game played at Norcross on Wednesday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross' Ricky Madison (25) guards Berkmar's C.J. Foster (5) during the second period of a boys basketball Class AAAAAA quarter final state tournament game played at Norcross.

NORCROSS -- The best boys team in Class AAAAAA is still up for debate. There is no question, though, about which is going into the Final Four on the most dominant roll.

Norcross has won 15 straight games heading into Saturday night's semifinal against North Cobb at Georgia Tech and the reason for the Blue Devils' success is easy to figure out.

Opponents have scored 50 points or less 12 times during the streak and visiting Berkmar was held without a basket for more than 12 minutes Wednesday night as Norcross rolled to a 56-35 victory.

Who says defense isn't pretty? It is when you are winning with it.

"We're just playing some really good defense," Blue Devils coach Jesse McMillan said.

Berkmar coach Greg Phillips certainly wouldn't disagree.

"We missed a lot of shots, but Norcross' defense had a lot to do with that," he said. "They took us out of our comfort zone."

The Blue Devils (25-6) used an aggressive man-to-man in the fourth quarter to take apart Archer in the second round. This time, it was a zone that took Berkmar (18-13) out of what it wanted to do.

"We've had some good defensive teams in the past, but that was usually because they had shot blockers," McMillan said. "This team just gets after it. They move their feet, communicate and play hard. It's fundamentals. For me, it's fun to watch."

Opponents can't say the same thing.

Berkmar scored only eight points combined in the middle quarters and had just two free throws in the second. Terrance O'Donohue had 15 points himself in that stretch for Norcross.

"We took some bad shots in the second quarter and then they just imposed their will on us in the third quarter," Phillips said.

O'Donohue finished with a game-high 19 points, while Brandon Goodwin -- the Blue Devils' only other senior -- had game-bests of nine assists and eight rebounds to go with his seven points.

Norcross has lost just once since O'Donohue was cleared to play after knee surgery last fall and is unbeaten since the College of Charleston signee was able to return to the starting lineup.

"He's an important piece for us," Goodwin said. "He adds a lot."

The 6-foot-7 O'Donohue and 6-foot-6 football standout Lorenzo Carter (eight points) give the Blue Devils two tough inside players and they both brought Blue Devils fans to their feet with resounding dunks against Berkmar.

The Patriots ousted Norcross 64-54 in the first round of the state tournament last year and it looked like they might be the Blue Devils' nemesis again for a while. Berkmar led 15-10 after Kip Patton started the second quarter with two free throws to complete a 7-0 run. But 6-foot-11 Tim Rowe drew his second foul and 6-foot-4 backup Patton his second and third, leaving the Patriots with no size inside.

Norcross took advantage as O'Donohue scored 10 straight points to complete a 15-0 run that gave the Region 7-AAAAAA champs a 25-15 lead at the break.

Goodwin had six assists in the first half, most to O'Donohue.

"No one needed to say anything to me," Goodwin said. "I could see the mismatch."

"He looked at who was guarding me and knew what to do," added O'Donohue.

By the end of the third quarter the lead was 39-21 and all that Berkmar had left was trying to keep the score from getting more lopsided.

C.J. Foster had 10 points for the Patriots, the No. 3 seed from Region 8-AAAAAA, and Malcolm Hannah scored nine. Rowe had just two free throws after scoring Berkmar's first four points.

Now Norcross gets North Cobb, which rallied in the fourth quarter to upset Tift County 68-63 at Tifton, on Saturday. The game at Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

North Cobb is sure to come in on a high after a big victory. But Norcross will be ready.

"I've never been on a team that played defense like this," said O'Donohue, a transfer from McCallie School in Chattanooga. "We're working hard and it is really paying off."