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Basketball: Denmark bounced by Norcross in first round
Denmark senior Sutton Smith, left, is fouled by Norcross junior Samarion Bond during Wednesday's 57-44 loss in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs. - photo by David Roberts

Denmark won its first Class 4A playoff game by 24 points two seasons ago.

The Danes' first Class 7A playoff opponent wasn't as welcoming. 

After a second-place finish in Region 6-7A, Denmark was rewarded by drawing a Norcross program with five state championships in Georgia's highest classification since the start of the century. 

Sutton Smith scored 14 points, Joseph Scott and Jayden Hilliman each had a double-double, but it wasn't enough as the Blue Devils upended Denmark 57-44 in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs.

The two programs combined to win 134 games in the past three seasons, hardly a typical first-round matchup.

"It is in 7A now," Denmark head coach Tyler Whitlock said. "It is in 7A."

Denmark trailed 40-32 after three quarters, and the Danes managed to cut the deficit to four points with 5:45 left in the game, but Norcross scored 14 of the last 19 points, including 10 from the free-throw line. 

"I'd like to know how many free throws they shot," Whitlock said. "When they get to go to the free-throw line that many times, it's going to be tough to stop that."

Norcross finished 18 of 32 from the free-throw line and scored 11 points from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.

Sophomore London Johnson scored 12 points for Norcross and was 7 of 8 from the free-throw line, including a pair of free throws with 51 seconds remaining that pushed the Blue Devils' lead to 54-44.

"I'm super proud of our guys," Whitlock said. "We challenged them to come out here and leave everything on the floor, and they did. They gave everything they had to this game. They played their butts off for four quarters. I just couldn't be more proud of this group and how they've battled."

Denmark trailed by 14 points in the early stages of the third quarter, but back-to-back 3-pointers from Smith and sophomore Stefan Davidov kicked off a 14-5 run that ended with another 3 from Smith and one from Scott to make it 40-35 with 7:30 left in the game.

After trading baskets, Denmark got a stop on defense and threatened to make it a one-possession game, but junior Avery Barnett turned the ball over on a traveling call. Norcross senior Jaden Harris took that opportunity to hit his first field goal of the second half to push the Blue Devils' lead to 46-39 with five minutes to play.

Harris scored a game-high 21 points and knocked down four 3-pointers in the first half, but was held to seven points after halftime.

"Sutton did a great job. I thought Kourtland, with his length, did a great job on him," Whitlock said. "Honestly, in the first half I thought he had a couple of open looks. Other than that, he was just hitting really tough shots. I mean, he's a great player. I think he went cold a little bit in the second half, and that helped a little bit, but I thought our guys for the most part did a great job on him."

Smith finished with four 3-pointers of his own.

He had a behind-the-back assist to Hilliman early in the first quarter, then hit his first 3-pointer on the following possession to give Denmark a brief 8-7 lead three minutes into the game.

Hilliman had 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Scott finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Smith, who reached 1,500 career points earlier this season, is one of six seniors who will graduate at the end of the school year.

"They're going to be missed," Whitlock said. "Guys that have been here to help build what we've done, there's going to be a big, gaping hole. They're going to be greatly missed by me, by our coaching staff and by their teammates. It's just going to be a matter of finding guys that are willing to put the same amount of time those seniors put in, and buy in and work hard."