Maurice Dixon

@WriturRece |

SUWANEE (GA) – Five points was the difference on the scoreboard between North Gwinnett and Collins Hill during the regular season. The third contest was very different.

With RJ Godfrey scoring 25 points and the other four starters reaching double figures as well, the Bulldogs quickly jumped ahead of the Eagles and never looked back on the way to an 86-55 home victory for the Region 6-7A championship on February 7.

In the first two matchups this season against Collins Hill, North Gwinnett struggled to take care of the basketball but still managed to win one of the two tightly contested games. With the region championship now at stake, the Bulldogs resolved that issue and the Eagles didn’t have a chance to keep this one close.

“I thought we handled the pressure better,” North Gwinnett coach Matt Garner said. “In the first two games, we combined for 59 turnovers so if we just cut that down to 20 we easily win the game. That was the main thing.”

Not only did North Gwinnett minimize its turnovers but the Bulldogs took advantage of their size mismatch by getting the ball in the post to Godfrey, who also had seven rebounds and two blocks, and Jared Ivey (14 points).

“On the scouting report the last couple of days it literally said ‘RJ and Jared need to eat early and often’ so I made it very clear that the ball is going into them and that is how we are going to play,” Garner said. “They need to get the ball because once they start playing it’s not that we are going to keep feeding them but it opens up things for everybody else.”

“Great game plan by coach, making high-low sets for us, cross screens and everything for us to get work,” Ivey said. “He knows that no team in this region can match up with our size.”

Most of Ivey’s points came in the first half, when he converted three of his five dunks. His 360, two-handed slam after a long outlet pass from Godfrey in the first quarter was the most impressive play of the game.

“I’ve been thinking for a while on my first fastbreak if nobody is there I’m going to pull off a 360 and it just happened to be in the region championship,” Ivey said.

“I see the guys doing stuff like that in practice but the fact that he pulled that out in the first quarter I was like OK,” Garner said. “But that kid is a freak athlete.”

Early in the third quarter, Ivey had another stellar dunk when JR Martin made a steal and threw it off the backboard to Ivey, who finished the play with a two-handed jam for a 42-22 advantage.

“That is just the connection we have,” Martin said. “We’ve been best bros since we were little. It’s second nature.”

Along with handling the Eagles’ one-on-one, full-court pressure, Martin (14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals) and Brendan Rigsbee (11 points) combined to knock down five 3-pointers.

“The first time we played them we turned the ball over a whole lot so we focused on that, the defensive glass, not giving up offensive rebounds and taking care of the ball and that is what we did tonight,” Martin said.

Matt Gilbert (11 points) also helped keep the defense honest by drilling three shots from the arc.

The Bulldogs started the game with a 7-0 run and led 17-8 at the end of the quarter after Godfrey nailed a jumper just before the buzzer. In the second quarter, North Gwinnett hit five 3-pointers to help stretch the margin to double digits for good and a 40-20 lead at the break.

“At the end of the day you want to peak at this point in time and I feel like there is no doubt about it we are playing our best basketball right now,” Garner said. “That is what we want.”

In the closing period, Godfrey prevented Collins Hill from making any type of run by notching 12 points in the frame which included five layups and a dunk.

“RJ Godfrey did not look like a sophomore out there tonight,” Garner said.

Jabiri Smith, who knocked down three 3-pointers, led Collins Hill in the scoring department with 17 points, and Travis Hunter added 11.