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Norcross strikes early, often to roll into finals

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Diamond DeShields (22) celebrates the Blue Devil's 64-16 victory over Langston Hughes during State AAAAAA high school girls basketball semifinals at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Diamond DeShields (22) celebrates the Blue Devil's 64-16 victory over Langston Hughes during State AAAAAA high school girls basketball semifinals at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Diamond DeShields (22) takes a three point shot over Langston Hughes's Kennya Simms (1) during State AAAAAA high school girls basketball semifinals at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday. Norcross defeated Langston Hughes 64-16.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Bri Williams (13) executes a layup past Langston Hughes's Latrevia Wilson (21) during State AAAAAA high school girls basketball semifinals at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday. Norcross defeated Langston Hughes 64-16.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Bri Williams (13) gives teammate Sydney Marshall (10) a high five before heading into the locker at halftime against Langston Hughes during State AAAAAA high school girls basketball semifinals at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday. Norcross defeated Langston Hughes 64-16.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Deja Smith (21), Benna McCoy (25), Shayla Cooper (32) and Javonne Stanfield (11) celebrate in the final seconds of their 64-16 victory over Langston Hughes during State AAAAAA high school girls basketball semifinals at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Sierra Butler (31) battles for the ball against Langston Hughes's Briunca Caldwell (40) and Destiny Taylor (42) during State AAAAAA high school girls basketball semifinals at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday. Norcross defeated Langston Hughes 64-16.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Diamond DeShields (22) drives to the basket against Langston Hughes during State AAAAAA high school girls basketball semifinals at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday. Norcross defeated Langston Hughes 64-16.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Shayla Cooper (32) takes to the ball to the basket over Langston Hughes's Jacquece Alston (11) during State AAAAAA high school girls basketball semifinals at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta Saturday. Norcross defeated Langston Hughes 64-16.

ATLANTA -- Norcross' girls didn't waste any time against Langston Hughes in their Class AAAAAA state semifinal game.

The Blue Devils already led before the ball was first put into play and were up by nine points when the game was just over a minute old.

With Diamond DeShields and Shayla Cooper leading the way, Norcross cruised into its third state championship game appearance in the last four years with a 64-16 win Saturday at Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion.

"I was really proud of how they started the game off," Norcross coach Angie Hembree understated. "They shared the ball and played really well. I was very proud of them. I thought we looked good. I hope we can keep that up."

DeShields finished with 21 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals, while Cooper added 15 points, five rebounds, two assists and three steals.

And the Blue Devils (27-5) established their dominance even before the game had started.

Langston Hughes (26-3) was assessed a technical foul for delaying the start of the game by 15 minutes when team officials had to return to the school to pick up the Panthers' road uniforms. The team mistakenly showed up wearing its home whites, even though Norcross was designated by the state brackets as the home team.

DeShields cashed in by hitting both technical free throws and then quickly got open in the left corner, took the inbound pass from Cooper and drained a 3-pointer to make the score 5-0 just three seconds into the game.

"Throughout the whole state tournament, Coach (Hembree) has told us to play with a sense of urgency, no matter who we're playing against," DeShields said.

"We had to be the aggressor (Saturday), and just do what we did.

"When I shot that 3, everything just felt good. I had no nerves, no anything. I know the rest of the team, when they see me that comfortable on the court, they're comfortable, too. After that, everyone started scoring."

That comfort level only grew after DeShields scored twice more, while Cooper added a bucket in the next 59 seconds to expand the Norcross lead 9-0 just 1:02 into the game.

Kolby Meeks then hit a 3-pointer 32 seconds later, followed by another DeShields basket, and by the time Langston Hughes finally got on the board on Brianca Caldwell's shot off the glass with 4:22 left in the first quarter, the Blue Devils had a commanding 14-2 lead.

And it was after Tia Jones hit a 3-pointer that brought Langston Hughes to within 21-7 with 2:41 left in the opening frame that Norcross began to really clamp down on defense.

The Blue Devils scored the final seven points of the period to take a 28-7 lead, and then held the Panthers scoreless the entire second quarter, going into halftime with a whopping 42-7 advantage.

Sitaraiya Nelloms finally hit a free throw with 3:29 left in the third quarter, breaking a drought of 15:12 for the Panthers, but that only cut the Norcross lead to 56-8, and the Blue Devils were able to coast into the finals against North Gwinnett next Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.

They also gained a measure of satisfaction after having their run of two straight state titles interrupted by eventual champion McEachern in last year's semifinals.

"We came out with a chip on our shoulder because last year, we lost in the semifinals to a better team (in) McEachern," Cooper said. "So, we just knew we had to come out fired up, ready to play."

Cooper and DeShields were hardly alone in contributing to Norcross' overwhelming effort.

Sierra Butler had a strong game with 10 points and seven rebounds, while Meeks finished with seven points and Sydney Marshall pulled down six rebounds and handed out three assists.

Jones led Langston Hughes with seven points, while Caldwell had seven rebounds.