Staff Photo: Jason Braverman North Gwinnett's Kam Calhoun (22) and Owen Lewis (14) defend Collins Hill's Devin Mitchell during Friday's game at North Gwinnett.
SUWANEE -- It can be truly said that North Gwinnett shot lights out in its key Region 7-AAAAAA boys basketball game against Collins Hill on Friday night.
And neither the bank of lights that temporarily failed during the second half nor the visiting Eagles could dim Bulldogs sharpshooters Ahmad Caver and T.J. Howard, who combined for eight of the host's 10 3-point baskets on the night in North's 63-51 win.
Both Caver, who had five 3-pointers, and Howard, who added three more from behind the arc, finished with 21 points as the Bulldogs (11-2 overall, 5-1 in region) maintained a share of the region lead.
"Early in the season, we weren't shooting the ball well," North coach Zachary Smith said. "I think it was dealing a lot with shot selection. Over the break, we played some good competition and started shooting the ball with confidence. So, we brought that to the table (Friday) night. That was really a difference make for us."
It started in the first quarter, when Howard made two of his team's four 3-pointers to help the Bulldogs run off to as much as an 11-point lead before taking a 22-12 advantage into the second quarter.
But Collins Hill (11-5, 5-2) wasn't going to go away easily, especially leading scorer Devin Mitchell.
The 6-foot-4 junior scored 12 of his game-high 28 points in the second quarter, including five during a 7-2 run over the final 2:03 of the half that pulled the Eagles to within 30-28 by intermission.
And when Arthur Gray hit a jump hook in the lane 32 seconds into the third quarter, Collins Hill had pulled even for the first time since the opening tip at 30-30.
That's when Caver began to heat up, drilling a trio of 3-pointers among his 13 third-quarter points, including answering Gray's bucket with a trey from the corner on North's next trip down the court to put the Bulldogs in front again -- this time, for good.
"We've been practicing hard on shooting drills," said Caver, who also handed out three of North's 12 assists on the night. "We were just saying, 'Be aggressive and make shots.' We weren't hitting a lot of shots in the first half. In the third quarter, we came out hot."
Still, Collins Hill continued to hang tough, overcoming as much as an eight-point deficit in the third quarter to pull to within 48-45 by the end of the period, and as close as one point at 48-47 after Devin Watson's pull-up jumper 11 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Eagles were still as close as three points at 54-51 after Mitchell hit his final bucket of the night on a drive down the lane while drawing a foul with 3:38 to play.
But he could not convert the traditional three-point play, and when Caver found open space in the right corner, Kam Calhoun got him the ball, with the 5-11 junior delivering the dagger with a 3-pointer that pushed the North lead to 57-51 with 2:00 remaining.
Howard then in a pair of free throws, sandwiched between two Malik Carter field goals, to close out the win, and end a tough defensive night for Collins Hill.
"They were hot, and we couldn't get out on them," Eagles coach Eric Nathan said of North. "We knew they were going to put up a lot of 3s, and we didn't do a good job of getting out on them. Our defensive effort wasn't there for the whole game.
"We're just coming out trying to outscore people, and that's just not going to get it done. You can't always outscore people. At some point, you've got to stop somebody."
In addition to the big night from Caver and Howard, Owen Lewis reached double figures for North with 10 points and added seven rebounds and three assists, while Carter chipped in seven points and a game-high 10 boards.
Collins Hill didn't have anyone else join Mitchell in double figures, but Gray had a strong game in the low post with seven posts and six rebounds.