The Marietta-Wheeler boys basketball rivalry, the biggest in metro Atlanta a decade ago, is back on.
And Norcross’ boys and girls teams – both defending state champions – will be No. 2 seeds in their region tournament after being swept by North Gwinnett.
First, let’s talk Marietta, which upset the fifth-ranked Wildcats 81-74 on Friday at Wheeler to force a tie for first place in Region 5-AAAAA. The decision on which will be the No. 1 seed for the coming region tournament will be decided by a coin toss Sunday.
Marietta finished the regular season 20-5, the first 20-win season since 2007. Marietta was 23-37 in its first two seasons under Matt Lyons, who succeeded 700-game winner Charlie Hood, who had coached the Blue Devils since the 1970s. Lyons is a former West Georgia player who assisted at Carrollton for nine seasons.
But Marietta is the turnaround story of AAAAA this season. Against Wheeler, Marietta made six 3-pointers in the first quarter, including one by Damon Mitchell at the buzzer for a 20-11 lead. Mitchell scored 30 points.
Marietta doesn’t have a player taller than 6-3 and starts three guards. Mitchell is one. He’s a 5-10 senior who played some on the JV last season but has emerged as a region player-of-the-year candidate. He’s averaging 18 points.
Wheeler’s record is 13-10, 11-1. Most of those losses had been to out-of-state teams, leading to a benefit of the doubt about a team that has won four state titles in the past 10 years. Wheeler was ranked ahead of Marietta in this week’s rankings because of and the presence of several big-name players, including 6-foot-8 post Chuck Mitchell, and the team’s unbeaten record in the region.
But there were warning signs. Wheeler lost two starters to academic issues since Christmas. Wheeler has struggled in an overtime victory over Etowah (9-15), a loss to Langston Hughes (17-8) and a narrow win over Lassiter (10-13) that required a buzzer-beating shot.
Meanwhile, North Gwinnett is looking like a contender with its boys and girls teams.
In the boys game against Norcross, Chris Bolden scored 29 points against his former teammates in a 63-51 victory. North Gwinnett is 17-8, 12-2 and looking to advance in the state playoffs for the first time since 2005. Norcross – the AAAAA champion in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011 – finished the regular season 15-10, 11-3.
In the girls game, Lexie Brown scored 30 points in North Gwinnett’s 69-41 victory. Norcross still is playing without star Diamond DeShields, who has an injured left wrist. But Brown, who has signed with Maryland, made a statement about her team’s chances at state. North finished 21-3, 13-1, while Norcross is 20-5, 12-2. North Gwinnett has not had a team this good at least since 2000, when North made the quarterfinals.
In other news from Friday, North Cobb forced a tie in Region 4 with a 52-50 victory over sixth-ranked Harrison. North Cobb has won 14 of 15 games since Christmas, its only loss to Harrison 59-57 on Jan. 17.
No. 1 seeds in the regions are:
1 – Tift County (boys), Colquitt County or Lowndes
2 – Westlake, Stephenson
3 – Johnson, Beach
4 – North Cobb or Harrison, McEachern
5 – Marietta or Wheeler, Marietta
6 – Milton, Alpharetta
7 – North Gwinnett, North Gwinnett
8 – Shiloh, Parkview