LILBURN — Tim Rowe nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key in the opening minutes of the third quarter and confidently skipped down his home court.
The long-range bucket gave Berkmar a 37-24 lead over Central Gwinnett, the end of a 13-4 run for the Patriots to open the second half.
The moment marked the highpoint of Berkmar's night.
From there, Central used a physical attack on both offense and defense to not just overcome the13-point deficit but limit the Patriots to six points over the final quarter and a half in a 51-43 Region 8-AAAAAA win for the Black Knights.
“We have stressed defense all year long,” Central head coach Branden Mayweather said.
Central will play Dacula in the first round of next week's 8-AAAAAA tournament and a Shiloh loss to Archer allowed Berkmar to hold onto the top spot in the region.
“The positive is you have to look at the body of work over the entire season,” Berkmar head coach Greg Phillips said. “It's not how you want to go into the region tournament.”
After Rowe's 3-pointer, not only did the Black Knights not panic they didn't even use a timeout. They closed the quarter on a 15-2 run, getting 11 points from Azaviar Kufour off the bench. The sophomore used the space provided with the attention focused on leading scorer Shaun Jones to put up two three-point plays and hit a layup and a 3-pointer.
“We were down. I knew we could win this game,” Kufour said. “I was just playing, it was a will to win.”
Until Kufour's explosion, the only offense Central had managed came from Jones.
In the first half, Berkmar used its presence in the paint and a variety of different players on offense to build a slight lead over Central.
The Patriots got nine rebounds and seven points from Rowe, one of four different Patriots to score in the half. Kiair Crouch scored seven of his 17 in the second quarter, helping Berkmar to a 24-20 halftime advantage. Rowe finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds, hampered all night by physical defense from Khalil Ozuma.
“You just have to hope that (Rowe) doesn't get going from inside and out,” Mayweather said. “(Ozuma) did a great job. Rowe actually got the best of him the last time so he did a good job of rising to the challenge.”
For Central, almost all its first-half offense came from Jones, who scored 13 of its 20 points, including a pair of first-quarter 3s.
Jones gave way to Kufour in the third quarter, the first hint of offense from another Central player.
“(It's impressive) especially for a sophomore to have that composure,” Mayweather said. “He gave us a lift off the bench.”
Jones hit a pair of free throws with 1:11 remaining in the third quarter to tie the game at 39-39. Central built 44-39 lead early in the fourth and Berkmar kept it close with a bucket from Crouch and a pair of free throws from James Sanders to make it a 44-43 Black Knights lead. But Central scored the final seven points.
“We kept fighting and kept believing in what we do,” Mayweather said. “These games flip and change so often.”
Central girls 53, Berkmar 41
Alexandra Frazier scored her 1,000th career point and Central needed every one of them to hold off a feisty Berkmar team 53-41.
Frazier, who reached the milestone on a 3-pointer in the third quarter, led all scorers with 22, five coming in the fourth quarter as the Black Knights held off a charge from the Patriots.
Berkmar shot out to a quick 17-7 lead before Central rallied with a 16-2 run to end the first half capped off by a 3 by Briana McGee (eight points) at the buzzer. The 23-19 halftime lead grew to double-digits in the third quarter before the Patriots charged back in the fourth.
Jirah Simpkins scored five of her 10 points in the final quarter leading the Patriots back to within three points at 44-41. From there, Central scored the final nine points, led by Frazier, to pull away for the win.
Tyra Woods added 15 points for Central and Brittany Taylor led Berkmar with 12 points.