Norcross vs. Wheeler in the state tournament has become as big a March matchup in Georgia as Rain vs. Pollen.
Saturday’s showdown between the two powerhouses came earlier than usual–in the state quarterfinals–but that didn’t stop Norcross from putting on a defensive display for the ages and laying a 63-54 smackdown on the Wildcats.
“It seems like every year we’ve played them, and the winner of this game goes pretty far in the state playoffs,” said Norcross head coach Jesse McMillan. “This one was no different. Our staff knows the Wheeler staff very well, the players know each other very well. It’s a good rivalry, but it’s a friendly rivalry. There were a lot of smiles and handshakes after the game. There’s a lot of respect between these two teams.”
The two teams have found each other at some point in the state tournament five times in the last seven years, but this is only the second time that they’ve met outside of the state finals over that span.
The win was just the second in the tournament for Norcross in the rivalry over the past seven years, and it came largely because of a lockdown defensive performance from the second quarter on.
Wheeler came out shooting well from the outside and built a 25-16 lead with 5:50 remaining in the second quarter. But from that point until McMillan emptied his bench with less than a minute to play in the game Norcross allowed Wheeler just three field goals and outscored them 47-18. That led to a 63-43 Norcross advantage, after which Wheeler trimmed the lead to a respectable margin against the Norcross reserves.
“We came with the game plan knowing how we wanted to guard them and knowing that we wanted to contest their perimeter shots,” McMillan said. “The first four or five minutes of the ballgame we didn’t do that. You can chalk it up to the atmosphere and the excitement and things like that. But once we got the emotion out from the second quarter on, I thought our defense was really, really good.”
Wheeler head coach Doug Lipscomb said the offensive power outage was just as much on his team’s shoulders as it was on the defensive prowess of Norcross.
“It’s not so much what they did. It’s what we didn’t do. We have things in place to combat just about anything that people do to us,” Lipscomb said. “Unfortunately tonight was not the night that it worked. So you do have to give them credit. They deserve it.”
Norcross sealed the deal defensively by not allowing Wheeler to get second shots. The Blue Devils outrebounded the Wildcats 32-19 as four Norcross’ five starters grabbed at least five boards.
Chris Bolden paced the Blue Devils offensively with 18 points. He was one of four Norcross players in double figures. Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (17 points, seven rebounds), Josiah Moore (12 points) and E. Victor Nickerson (10 points, nine boards) contributed to the balanced offensive effort.
The win extends Norcross’ winning streak to 15 games heading into Thurday’s state semifinal matchup against Valdosta at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Karriem Simmons had 17 points and Nigel Snipes added 15 for Wheeler, which finishes the season with a record of 24-7.