Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross's Diamond DeShields (22) brings in a rebound while defended by North Gwinnett's Keniesha Wilborn (24) during the second period of Wednesday's game played at Norcross.
NORCROSS -- The Norcross student section was ready for the North Gwinnett girls Wednesday night.
"Where yo' rings at?" one sign read.
"North is overrated," another, less creative, added.
The Bulldogs, who came in ranked as high as No. 3 nationally, may still win their first state title. But Norcross, state champs in 2010 and 2011, will certainly have something to say about it.
The Blue Devils handed North its first loss and evened the regular-season series at a game each with a 46-29 home victory thanks to Diamond DeShields' 25 points and a shutdown defensive effort.
But North, which won 64-49 at home on Jan. 15, will likely get another shot at Norcross in the upcoming Region 7-AAAAAA tournament and a fourth meeting for the state title in March is a strong possibility.
"We're going to go back and forth, I hope," Norcross coach Angie Hembree said.
DeShields, a leading candidate for national player of the year, got Norcross (16-4, 10-1 region) off to a quick start offensively and then the Blue Devils' defense took over.
"It really comes down to effort," DeShields said. "North is a talented team, but we're just as talented."
The Bulldogs (18-1, 11-1 region) scored just four points in each of the two middle quarters to fall behind 40-23 and finished the game 8-for-50 from the floor -- a dismal 24 percent.
"The kids did a great job playing defense," Hembree said. "Much better than they did last time. North beat the tar out of us the first time and we had to come back at our place.
"North is an incredible team. But we played very well. I'm proud of our effort."
North knew all about DeShields, of course. The Norcross students, though, reminded them with a large cutout of the North Carolina signee's face and another sign that read, "#22 UNC."
DeShields, who had scored 16 points in the first meeting, built off her 12-point first half with nine points in the decisive third quarter and finished the game with a trio of 3-pointers and a 6-for-6 outing at the foul line.
Georgetown signee Shayla Cooper backed DeShields with 10 points, eight coming in the first half, and also had six rebounds. Kolby Meeks grabbed eight rebounds and Bri Williams had a strong floor game with three assists.
Peyton Whitted led North with 11 points. Maryland signee Lexie Brown had seven points, as did Alyssa Munlyn. Brown added four assists and Stephanie Amichia grabbed seven rebounds.
North had just one 3-pointer, that by Brown. Baylee Rexing, who had hit four 3-pointers en route to 16 points in the first meeting, had just a fourth-quarter basket in this one.
With DeShields hitting a pair of 3-pointers en route to 10 quick points, Norcross led 14-4 before North went on an 11-2 run capped by Munlyn's 3-point play to draw within 16-15 at the end of the first quarter.
But the Bulldogs couldn't sustain the momentum, scoring just four points in the second quarter, and Norcross led 25-19 at halftime on DeShields' basket just before the buzzer.
Things didn't get better for North in the third quarter, just worse. Norcross broke the game wide open with a 9-0 run to end the period and led 40-23 going into the final quarter.
With the big lead, the Blue Devils were content to milk the clock and North couldn't cut into the advantage.
The Bulldogs scored just 14 points in the final three quarters. That tells you all you need to know about the Norcross defense and North's frigid shooting.
"This is a series," DeShields said. "We might play three times or even four. I wouldn't be surprised if we played each other for the state championship."