The victory put Central Gwinnett in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2001, when it won the Class 4A championship. The Black Knights’ 53-44 win over North Gwinnett in the first round Tuesday was their first playoff victory since 2013. Central Gwinnett is 23-6, with three of the losses coming against third-ranked Buford in Region 8 play.
Central Gwinnett will be on the road in the quarterfinals next week against the winner of Saturday’s game between McEachern and Campbell.
“Central Gwinnett has an impressive history as a school,” fourth-year Black Knights coach Courtney Harris said. “We’ve had some downturns in the level of play that we’ve been at. But when I came here, I came with one collective vision, which was to get Central Gwinnett back on the map. And that’s kind of been our mantra in the locker room, to put Central Gwinnett back on the map.”
Walton (19-10) was trying to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 1999. The Raiders earned the second region championship in school history by defeating then-No. 10 Cherokee in the Region 5 tournament last weekend.
Walton’s height, led by 6-foot-3 senior center Lexy Harris, caused problems for Central Gwinnett early in the game, and the Raiders jumped out to a 7-2 lead in less than two minutes. The Raiders still led 14-11 with less than a minute and half to play in the first quarter, but Central Gwinnett responded with a 14-0 run over the next three minutes for a 25-14 lead. Joy Harris made two 3-pointers and Driessen scored five points during the run, which gave the Black Knights a lead they would not surrender.
Walton got within three points at 26-23 on two free throws by Lexy Harris midway through the second quarter, but Central Gwinnett outscored the Raiders 12-6 in the final four minutes of the half to build the lead back up to 38-29.
Driessen gave Central Gwinnett a 13-point lead with a short jumper and a layup to open the third quarter, and the Black Knights expanded the lead from there.
“We knew that we were going to struggle because we’re a whole lot smaller than they are, top to bottom,” Courtney Harris said. “Even our guards are smaller than their guards. But we knew that our speed was going to be something they were going to struggle with. So if we could weather that first two minutes, we could really make an impact on the pace of the game. We just needed to get through that first couple of minutes and settle in.”
Joy Harris finished with 15 points on five 3-pointers. Central Gwinnett also got 18 points from Olivia Orsley, eight from Dami Odubola and seven from Coco Rudolph.
Lexy Harris led Walton with 21 points, 15 of which came in the first half. Graycen Ehlen scored 14 points.