North Forsyth's girls basketball team coasted past Duluth in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs Tuesday, 52-28, outscoring the Wildcats 37-15 in the second half to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight season.
The Raiders overcame a sluggish start offensively, carrying a 15-13 lead into halftime before using a 22-3 run in the second half to pull away.
"For most of them, that's their first time ever having playoff experience," North head coach Brad Kudlas said. "I think they had some jitters in them. We had shots that just weren't falling that fell the second half."
Duluth center Saniya Jones was a mismatch against North, using her 6-foot-4 frame to control the post and limit the Raiders' chances in the paint. North hoped to counter with some sharpshooting from the perimeter but was just 3 of 13 from 3-point range in the first half and finished 5 of 22.
North junior Ali Jones knocked down all three of the team's 3-pointers before halftime, accounting for more than half the Raiders' first-half points.
"The biggest thing was push the ball," Kudlas said. "We didn't want them to be able to sit in their zone if we could push it. We did a much better job in that third quarter of doing that. Just show that shot, drive the lane, and if we got the kick out — we hit two big ones."
Jones' first 3-pointer gave North a 7-4 lead with 0:56 left in the first quarter. It was the last score for nearly five minutes until Duluth senior Khari Carpenter hit a layup with 3:54 left in the second quarter to make it 7-6.
Jones responded with another 3, then drained one more to give North a 13-9 lead.
Duluth tied the game 13-13, but North junior Maddie Erickson's last-second layup gave the Raiders a slim lead at the buzzer.
North took control in the third quarter, as sophomore Kamryn Gardner's 3-pointer fueled a 15-point third-quarter outburst, which ended with a layup by sophomore Erin Whalen off a perfect bounce pass from junior Anna Gliatta. Junior Haelim Adle added a bucket of her own — two of 10 second-half points from Adle — to hand North a 30-15 lead heading into the final frame.
Adle led the Raiders with 12 points, while Jones had 10, sophomore Meredith Franklin added eight and Whalen chipped in seven.
Franklin scored six of her eight points within a matter of seconds in the middle of the fourth quarter.
After hitting a 3-pointer to give North a 23-point cushion, Franklin stole the ball on Duluth's ensuing possession, made the layup and knocked down the and-1 from the free-throw line.
Franklin added an assist on North's following possession, then had an impressive hustle rebound off a missed free throw that extended the possession and allowed the Raiders to ultimately find Gliatta for a bucket.
"We've been wanting those sophomores to step up," Kudlas said. "I thought she did great, and Kamryn [Gardner] hit a big 3. I think that 3 kind of got us rolling. I've been telling all of them, 'Just be ready for your moment. You don't know when it's going to come and you don't know what it's going to look like, but it's going to happen at some point. Be ready for it.' They've been doing a good job of getting ready. Meredith has been playing some really good defense. We've been putting her on the best player a lot. Today she was able to reward herself with some offensive points, which was good. The big 3 that she hit and the layup with the and-1."
North (22-4) will host Roswell at 7 p.m. Friday in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs. The Raiders topped Roswell 74-66 in double overtime on Dec. 5.
"[Roswell head coach Antonio Wade] is going to bring everything. He does a great job getting his team ready," Kudlas said. "I know they're very fast and like to shoot the 3. They've got [Makayla Torrence] — I think the first time she went off in the fourth quarter against us. We've got to shut down their shooters and play a little bit more solid defense. Every game from here on out, everyone's good.