AAAAA girls basketball: Norcross 48, North Gwinnett 37

The Norcross girls basketball team had trouble scoring in the second half of its Region 7-AAAAA showdown with North Gwinnett on Tuesday, so it was fortunate for the Blue Devils that they didn’t need much offense down the stretch.

Thanks to a big halftime lead and a suffocating defensive effort, the Blue Devils held on for a 48-37 victory at home to take control of first place in the region.

Third-ranked Norcross (14-3, 8-0) closed the second quarter with a 16-2 run for a 36-19 halftime lead, then scored just 12 points the rest of the way. The Blue Devils managed to keep the lead at 11 points or more until the final three minutes, when No. 4 North Gwinnett (13-2, 6-1) cut the deficit to 44-37 on a short jumper by Baylee Rexing. But Tori Carter made two layups in the final 30 seconds to push the final margin back to 11 points. North Gwinnett scored 15 points in the first quarter but just 22 more over the final three.

“We were trying to run our offense,” Norcross coach Angie Hembree said of her team’s second-half performance. “It looked like a delay, but we were trying to run our offense. But I thought our kids did a really good job playing defense tonight, because [North Gwinnett] can shoot it. That’s the thing I was proudest of, our defense.”

Part of Norcross’ struggles could be attributed to a first-quarter injury to leading scorer Diamond DeShields, who experienced numbness in her left hand after landing on her arm while being fouled attempting a layup. DeShields, who basically played one-handed the rest of the way, finished with 12 points but had just four after the injury. Hembree said she believes that the injury is not serious.

Shayla Cooper scored the first six points of the game for Norcross. She finished the first quarter with 10 points and tied DeShields for the team lead with 12, and Carter added 10. The Blue Devils also got eight points from Bri Williams, including a four-point play during their second-quarter run.

North Gwinnett’s Lexie Brown led all scorers with 16 points. No other Bulldog scored more than four.

“[Williams] can score if she needs to, she just doesn’t need to,” Hembree said. “And I thought she did a great job defensively on Lexie.”

Norcross lost two of three meetings with North Gwinnett last season but went on to win its second consecutive Class AAAAA championship. The teams will play again on Feb. 10 at North Gwinnett.

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