By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Cut it out, Diamond. And you too, Shayla.
The best girls high school basketball player in America, Diamond DeShields, and her dynamic sidekick, Shayla Cooper, showed up big time on Saturday night, putting all of their skills on display. And their teammates showed why they are far from chopped liver, as Norcross rolled to its third state championship in the last five years in Georgia’s largest classification, with a 63-42 win over Region 7-AAAAAA rival North Gwinnett.
DeShields led all scorers with 24 points and grabbed four rebounds, while Cooper added 20 points and eight boards, to lead the onslaught. DeShields, headed to North Carolina, and Cooper, headed to Georgetown, outplayed North Gwinnett’s Big Two, Lexie Brown, headed to Maryland, and Peyton Whitted, headed to Penn State. Brown finished with 20 points while the 6-foot-3 Whitted scored seven points and had just two rebounds.
Norcross had dropped two of the three games it played against the Bulldogs this season, including the region tournament championship. But the Blue Devils came out firing on all cylinders, on offense and defense, in the state final.
With the game tied at nine midway through the first quarter, DeShields and Cooper took command for Norcross. The pair went on a 10-4 run – DeShields with 6, Cooper with 4 – to give the Blue Devils a 19-13 lead after one quarter.
Norcross continue the spurt in the second period, and a mid-range jumper by DeShields gave the Blue Devils a 28-15 lead at the four-minute mark of the period. But as she did all night, Brown attempted to keep the Bulldogs in it by responding with a deep three-pointer. But a member of the Blue Devils supporting cast, junior forward Kolby Meeks, answered with four consecutive points to spark a 6-3 run to end the half with Norcross on top 34-21.
The lead grew to 17, 40-23, midway through the third quarter, when DeShields banked home a half-court lob pass from Cooper. A couple of minutes later, DeShields brought the crowd in the Macon Centreplex to its feet when she grabbed a rebound in the backcourt, spun away from a trap, and went coast-to-coast, finishing with a flying one-hander along the baseline to push the Blue Devil lead to 44-25.
Cooper got in on the fun on the next possession, when she scored on a put-back and was fouled, and then completed the three-point play as the margin swelled to 47-25.
But North Gwinnett fought back valiantly heading into the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs went on an 11-0 run, with Brown scoring eight points, to cut the lead to 48-36 midway through the period.
But that was as close as North Gwinnett would get, as Norcross pulled the ball out to shorten the game and made good on 9-of-11 free throws down the stretch to win going away.
Norcross (63) – Diamond DeShields 24, Shayla Cooper 20, Sierra Butler 7, Kolby Meeks 6, Bri Williams 4, Sydney Marshall 2.
North Gwinnett (42) – Lexie Brown 20, Joshlyn Belcher 9, Peyton Whitted 7, Stephanie Amichia 6.