North Gwinnett defense smothers sliding Duluth in boys basketball

North Gwinnett’s Ahmad Caver (5) shoots over Duluth’s Bryce Wooten (22) during the first half of Friday’s game at North Gwinnett. (Photo: Kyle Hess)

North Gwinnett’s Ahmad Caver (5) shoots over Duluth’s Bryce Wooten (22) during the first half of Friday’s game at North Gwinnett. (Photo: Kyle Hess)

SUWANEE — Zaynah Robinson’s hard-fought basket with 1:36 on the third-quarter clock did it. Duluth finally hit the 20-point mark.

By then, North Gwinnett’s suffocating defense and balanced offense had created an insurmountable lead in the Bulldogs’ 60-34 victory in Region 7-AAAAAA boys basketball. While Duluth was held to a season low Friday night (the previous low was 42 vs. North on Dec. 13), North played some of its best defense of the season for three quarters.

Duluth made just 9 of 34 shots (26.5 percent) through three quarters and missed all 10 of its 3-point attempts. It finished 14-for-50 (28 percent) and 0-for-13 on 3-pointers.

“The guys locked in defensively,” North boys coach Zach Smith said. “Duluth’s a talented team. They’ve got good players. Our guys just defended really, really well. Probably more impressive is half of (Duluth’s points through three quarters) were on offensive rebounds. They didn’t get anything on their first chances. I’m really proud of the way our guys played defensively.”

Up just 24-15 at halftime, North’s offense finally awoke with a 15-0 run to start the second half. That spurt, coupled with the defensive intensity, was plenty to put away skidding Duluth (12-9, 6-6), which lost its third in a row and fourth in five games. The Wildcats’ struggles have come on the heels of their season-best, eight-game winning streak.

Meanwhile, North (19-3, 12-1) kept rolling atop 7-AAAAAA with a balanced offense.

Malik Carter (16 points, eight rebounds) carried the load in the first half with 14 points and a pair of 3-pointers. Ahmad Caver (14 points) took over early in the third quarter with 10 points during the pivotal third-quarter run.

Then T.J. Howard, the county’s second-leading scorer, got rolling. He had six points at half — though he did become North’s third-ever player to score 1,000 points on a second-quarter three-point play — but finished with a game-high 20 points.

Owen Lewis had six points and 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs, who also got nine rebounds from Kam Calhoun despite his foul trouble. North matched its first-half output with a 24-point third quarter, building a 48-22 lead after three quarters.

“They’re so unselfish,” Smith said of his balanced offense. “We’re looking for our shot. No one player is trying to get their shot. We’re looking for our best shot.”

Duluth was led by Robinson (eight points, five rebounds), Obinna Ofodile (seven points, five rebounds) and Anthony Showell (seven points).

North girls 56, Duluth 44

Joshlyn Belcher and the North Gwinnett girls started the fourth quarter on a 15-2 run Friday night, turning a close game into a 56-44 win over visiting Duluth.

Belcher had seven of her game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer that extended North’s lead to double figures with 3:30 left. A layup by Katie Powell early in the quarter was the only Duluth points of the fourth until she scored again with 54 seconds left and the game was already out of hand.

Emily Toomer (13 points) and Alyssa Munlyn (11 points) also scored in double figures for North (11-9, 7-6), while Stephanie Amichia added nine points.

Endia Banks led Duluth (12-9, 8-4) with 15 points, while Powell and Alyah McGriff scored 10 each.