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Devils' season comes full circle in title game vs. Hillgrove

Norcross will end its 2012-13 boys basketball season with the same opponent it started with.

And the Blue Devils hope the result -- a win -- will be the same when they tip off against Hillgrove in tonight's 8:45 Class AAAAAA state championship game at the Macon Centreplex.

But coach Jesse McMillan knows both teams on the court tonight will bear little resemblance to ones that played in that preseason scrimmage won by Norcross (26-6) all the way back in November.

At least, he can say that about the Blue Devils.

"I remember having a conversation with (Hillgrove coach Ed Morris) prior to the scrimmage, and he was saying that he was lucky to have all his guys available from football already. So, their guys have been together a long time now. They're a well-oiled machine.

"We have a lot of respect for them. Of their four losses, three of them are to North Cobb, and they played North Cobb very well. Just watching those guys live, you can see they have a plan and are very fundamental. Those are the teams that are scary in March."

Indeed, the Hawks (28-4), who finished as runner-up to North Cobb in Region 4-AAAAAA, have been very steady throughout the season.

And they come into tonight's game winners of 12 of their last 13 games, including the program's signature win, a 56-54 triumph over powerhouse Wheeler in last week's semifinals at Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion.

Juniors Kyle Castelin (20 points in the win against Wheeler) and Keith Ray have been solid leaders throughout the season, while fellow junior B.J. Brown and senior Jordan Sexton have also been big contributors, particularly with their shooting from long range.

"We want to limit their perimeter shots," McMillan said. "And they're pretty solid in transition. If we can turn it into more of a half-court game and control their shots, I feel good about our chances."

But as hot as Hillgrove is coming into tonight's game, Norcross is even hotter, with a 16-game winning streak, including a 59-54 win over North Cobb in last week's semis.

With the incorporation and adjustment of football players Lorenzo Carter and Chris Herndon, plus the return to full health of senior Terrance O'Donohue, complete, the Blue Devils are finally hitting their stride.

And with Hillgrove having just two players standing as tall as 6-foot-4, Norcross hopes to take advantage of bigger players in the post, like the 6-6 Carter and Ricky Madison and the 6-7 O'Donohue.

But Norcross' biggest catalyst remains senior guard Brandon Goodwin, who has done a little bit of everything for the Blue Devils, averaging 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

He and his teammates have been at their best down the stretch and into the state tournament, especially after their last loss -- a 63-55 setback to Mill Creek -- taught them a valuable lesson.

It's a lesson Goodwin says the Blue Devils will remember tonight.

"It's crunch time now," Goodwin said. "I knew I needed to step up and play a bigger role, ... and we learned our lesson against Mill Creek. We really didn't play hard (that night), and now we treat (teams like that) very different than before.

"Hillgrove's like that, and it's just like anybody else. We've got to stay hungry and stay humble."