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Norcross defense bedevils North 56-47

NORCROSS -- Defense has been the strength of the Norcross boys throughout the season, and Wednesday night's game against North Gwinnett at the House of Blue was no exception.

The Blue Devils forced 13 turnovers from the visiting Bulldogs in the first half and stifled them in the second half, when Brandon Goodwin got the offense going by scoring 11 of his game-high 21 points after halftime in Norcross' 56-47 victory.

The win was the eighth in the last 10 games for the Blue Devils (13-6, 9-2), who held an opponent under 50 points for the eighth time this season in a tough, physical game that featured 47 fouls and 55 free throws.

"Obviously we preach (defense) every day," Norcross coach Jesse McMillan said. "It's taken a while for guys to buy in, but the last couple of games, we can't complain about the defensive effort at all. ... And I'm super pleased with (Wednesday) night.

"I feel like we were able to take (North) out of what they wanted to do. We were able to take them out of their comfort zone, and that's the biggest thing for us right now, as we work on some offensive issues."

Tough defense from both teams -- North also forced Norcross into seven turnovers of its own -- and a slow pace to the game kept the score down in the opening 16 minutes.

T.J. Howard gave North its two biggest leads of the half, first finishing a fast break with a layup to make the score 11-5 at the end of the first quarter and then connecting on a 3-pointer to put the Bulldogs in front 14-9 with 4:53 left in the half.

But Goodwin and Norcross began to heat up.

The 6-foot senior hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to key an 8-0 run that vaulted Norcross into its first lead of the game at 17-14 with 2:47 left in the half.

Goodwin then hit again from behind the arc with six seconds left to send the Blue Devils into intermission with their biggest lead of the game at 21-16.

The rest of the Blue Devils started to get more into the offensive act in the second half, especially after North pulled as close as 27-24 following Howard's transition layup with 3:38 left in the third quarter.

Andre Chatfield hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to ignite a 7-2 run over the final 3:10 of the period to push Norcross' lead out to 34-26, and another 12-6 run over the opening 3:57 of the fourth quarter, capped by a Ricky Madison baseline drive with 4:03 remaining, gave the Blue Devils their biggest lead at 44-32.

It was tough for North to climb back with Norcross not allowing its foe to get out in transition and bodying up on the smaller Bulldogs, especially on the boards, where the Blue Devils held a 42-27 advantage.

The physical play limited North to just 13 field goals and took its toll on the Bulldogs when Kam Calhoun left the game with a hip pointer in the fourth quarter.

"There's certain matchups in this region that are bloodbaths, and (Norcross) is one of them," North coach Zach Smith said. "You have to put your big boy pants on to come play. Our guys came to play, but we just missed some assignments on the glass and gave up some buckets we shouldn't have given up."

But while Norcross led the rest of the way, it was difficult for the Blue Devils to pull away after hitting just 13 of 22 free throws in the fourth quarter and 18 of 35 for the game.

By contrast, North hit its first 13 attempts from the line and finished the game 17-for-20.

However, Norcross hit just enough, connecting on 7 of its last 10 in the final 1:16 to put the game away.

Goodwin had a fine all-around game in addition to his scoring by also posting nine rebounds, five assists and two steals, while Madison also chipped in with 14 points and nine rebounds, Chatfield had 10 points and Lorenzo Carter contributed five points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots.

Owen Lewis led North with 16 points, half of which came on 8-of-10 shooting from the line, while Howard also reached double figures with 10 points, but had just two after halftime.