Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Lorenzo Carter (22) slam dunks the basketball against North Gwinnett during boys high school basketball action in Suwanee on Tuesday. Norcross defeated North Gwinnett 43-37.
SUWANEE -- Norcross' boys basketball game is still searching for the right chemistry following Tuesday night's game at Region 7-AAAAAA co-leader North Gwinnett.
But the way coach Jesse McMillan sees it, the Blue Devils took a major step forward with their tight defensive effort that resulted in a 43-37 win.
"We said that while we're working on our chemistry issues and working on our identity offensively, our defense has to be consistent," McMillan said after Norcross (11-6, 7-2) pulled into a second-place tie with North (13-4, 7-2), a game and a half behind now sole region leader Peachtree Ridge. "We challenged (the players) to play with more effort, more passion, and play attention to the little things. And we held (North) to just 37 points and made them very sluggish offensively, and that was one of our goals going into it."
Both teams were sluggish offensively in a first half that ended with Norcross holding onto a 17-15 lead.
But the Blue Devils came alive in the opening 2:08 of the second half, with Brandon Goodwin and Khalen Pinkett leading a tightened up effort that helped turn defense into offense.
Each player came up with a steal, as Norcross forced North into turnovers on its first three possessions of the third quarter, with Goodwin dishing off to Ricky Madison for a layup and Pinkett driving for layups to cap an 8-2 run over that early span to extend the Blue Devils' lead to 25-17 with 5:52 left in the period.
When Ahmad Caver completed a three-point play with a free throw to bring North back to within three, Norcross answered with an 11-4 run over the final 5:02 of the quarter, and led by as much as 13 points before taking a 36-24 lead into the final frame.
But the Bulldogs weren't done, as Caver hit 3-pointers on back-to-back trips down the court and T.J. Howard added two free throws for an 8-0 run that cut the deficit down to 36-32 with 4:41 remaining.
North pulled as close as four points again at 40-36 following a free throw from Kam Calhoun, but could not pull any closer after the Blue Devils forced the Bulldogs to the perimeter and couldn't not connect from behind the arc (3-for-20) or at the free-throw line (10-for-19 overall, 5-for-10 in the fourth quarter) down the stretch.
"We just felt like we didn't execute our game plan at all," North coach Zach Smith said. "(Norcross) pounded us (inside). They knew exactly what they needed to do and they executed that in the second half.
"Our game plan was not to take 20 3s, I promise you that. They just outplayed us. They made the plays to win the game."
Norcross had its own trouble at the line, missing two key free throws in the final 1:06 to keep the door open for North.
But Goodwin, who finished with a team-high 14 points, plus seven rebounds, three assists and three steals, hit 1 of 2 from the line, and Jalen Davis came off the bench to hit two more clutch free throws with 18.1 seconds left to finally seal the deal for the Blue Devils, who also got a solid game from Lorenzo Carter with eight points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
Caver led North and all scorers with 15 points and added three steals, while Calhoun chipped in 11 points, six boards and three steals.