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North Forsyth girls overcome slow start against Central Gwinnett
Lady Raiders advance to Sweet 16 with 63-49 win at home
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North Forsyth junior Caroline Bowns scored 22 points in the Lady Raiders' 63-49 win over Central Gwinnett on Friday in the first round of the Class AAAAAA tournament at home. - photo by David McGregor

Central Gwinnett had the best basketball player on the court Friday night in Alexandra Frasier, but North Forsyth’s girls’ basketball team is too good, too deep and too well-coached to let one individual beat them — not during the regular season, and certainly not in the playoffs.

So even though Frasier ignited a 10-0 start for Central Gwinnett and finished with 33 points, the Lady Raiders never panicked. They knew they had the tools to come out on top, and with a fourth quarter push that’s exactly what they did, winning 63-49 in the first round of the Class AAAAAA tournament.

“Not exactly how we wanted to start, but it worked out,” said North head coach Eric Herrick. “We knew [Frasier] is a stud … but the kids took the challenge and figured it out in the second half.”

In the end, Frasier’s talent alone was no match for the Lady Raiders’ well-balanced roster. As she fell off her pace in the second half — scoring just 11 points in the final 16 minutes of regulation — North continued with its consistent effort, scoring between 13 and 18 points in each stanza.

While the Lady Raiders (27-2) may have earned this victory late in the contest, they prevented defeat by quickly snapping out of their early skid. After falling behind by 10, they went on a 10-0 run of their own — stunning the Lady Black Knights’ bench and thwarting a potential blowout situation.

“We went out and let them play their game instead of our game, but I don’t think we were ever worried about losing,” said junior Caroline Bowns. “When we went down 10-0 there was an automatic switch in our heads, thinking, ‘Let’s go; we’re not going to let this happen now.’”

North went into halftime down 30-29, which was certainly encouraging given the way the night started. But some significant adjustments had to be made at intermission to stop Frasier from taking over, and Herrick had just the remedy.

The Lady Raiders came into the third quarter with the plan to double-team Frasier and implement a full-court press—a strategy that proved to slow down the talented guard. Suddenly Frasier’s teammates began struggling to get her the ball, and when she did gain possession she was swarmed by Lady Raiders.

Frasier, who was playing at less than 100 percent with a hurt ankle, was no longer a dominant force, and that would spell disaster for Central Gwinnett.

“We had to run a few people at her, because one-on-one didn’t give her much trouble,” said North point guard Lochlain Corliss, who was fresh off winning the Region 6-AAAAAA tournament MVP. “[In the second half] we had everyone match up man-to-man, and when she crossed half court we put a second body on her.”

Corliss put up 22 points of her own, as did Bowns, whose 11 fourth quarter points were crucial in building a sizeable lead and putting the Lady Black Knights away. 

“She came out a little tentative, but she exploded there,” Herrick of the junior forward. “She didn’t quit shooting and she didn’t quit attacking. For her and Lochlain to both go for 22 — that’s huge for us.”

Corliss and Bowns weren’t the only ones to play a key role in North’s victoy: Okwunne Ogbogu stepped up and led the team in rebounds. When the Lady Raiders needed a big basket early on, Kendall Bennett — who hit two 3s in the first quarter — came through in the clutch.

It was a team effort from the Lady Raiders, quite a contrast from Central Gwinnett’s performance.

North will now turn its attention to its next opponent, Duluth, who took down Lassiter on Friday, 53-31. They’ll face-off Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Raider Arena.

There’s a bit of bad blood between these two teams, at least in North’s mind, as Duluth beat the Lady Raiders several years ago in double-overtime in a game North felt it should have won.

The Lady Raiders haven’t forgotten how that game turned out and plan on using that memory to motivate them this time around.

“We have some grudges with them,” said Corliss. “We really want this game.”