NORCROSS — Norcross boys coach Jesse McMillan wasn’t interested in style points in his team’s first-round Class AAAAAAA state tournament game with Archer.
And the Blue Devils turned in a bottom-line performance, stepping their game up a gear in the fourth quarter to finally pull away from the visiting Tigers for a 77-62 win Friday at the House of Blue.
Kyle Sturdivant scored 25 points and added three assists, while Brandon Boston finished with 24 points and five rebounds as Norcross (25-3) advanced to the second round, where it awaits the winner of Saturday's opening-round game between Duluth and West Forsyth.
“We told (the players) before the game, ‘When we come back in here (to the locker room) at the end of the night, it didn’t matter if we won by 30 points or one point,’” McMillan said. “That’s the only thing we were focused on — getting the W. We knew this was the first playoff experience for a lot of guys on our roster, especially in different roles they had from last year. So there are some jitters.”
The Blue Devils only trailed once, when Justin Edmondson’s drive down the left wing for a layup briefly gave Archer an 18-17 lead 1:01 into the second quarter.
Yet, the Tigers (15-13) weren’t about to let them run away and hide, even after a 7-3 run over the final 2:34 of the first half left Norcross with a 34-27 halftime lead, which grew even further after the pace picked up early in the second half.
It took the Blue Devils just 54 seconds to go on a 7-1 run, capped by Dalvin White’s 3-pointer from the right wing, which pushed the lead to double figures at 41-28.
“We didn’t want to come out pressing early (in the game) because I felt like (Archer) prepare for it, and we wanted to get some nerves out,” McMillan said. “But we were able to press a little in the third quarter and speed them up and get them to of their rhythm.”
That trend continued after Bryce Brown’s baseline jumper ended that run, as Boston and Strudviant each scored in transition to round out a 9-3 spurt that gave Norcross its biggest lead at 50-33 with 4:57 left in the third quarter.
But once again, Archer refused to go away, pulling back into the game with some hot shooting from long range.
Malik Sproles, Zion McCray, Brown and Shakim Jenks each connected from behind the arc to lead a 14-6 charge that pulled the Tigers to within single digits again at 56-47 with 1:17 left in the quarter.
But Joseph Toppin hit a pair of free throws with 30.6 seconds left to send Norcross into the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead again at 58-47, and the Blue Devils were finally able to put the game away in the final frame, building the lead back to 14 at 61-47 with a three-point play by Boston 55 seconds in and never letting Archer any closer than 11 the rest of the way.
That final run put an end to a highly-improved season for the Tigers from last year, one coach Joel Lecoeuvre admitted was hard to let go of.
“Those seniors changed our culture,” Lecoeurve said. “Us doubling our win total (from last season), winning a Christmas tournament, Thanksgiving tournament, going to the state tournament — we almost had all our (goal) boxes checked.
“If you make a mistake (against Norcross), … it’s two points, and that’s what makes them so good. You have to almost play perfect to win the game. We tried.”
Joining Sturdivant and Boston in double figures for Norcross was White with 11 points, with the senior also dishing out a game-high seven assists, and Toppin with 10 points, while Issa Muhammad pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
Jerks scored 16 points to lead Archer, while the Tigers also got 12 points each from Brown (eight rebounds) and McCray (six rebounds), as well as 11 points from Sproles.