CONYERS - The Rockdale Bulldogs jumped all over the Jackson County Panthers, scoring the first 19 points of the game en route to a convincing 86-40 victory Tuesday night to remain unbeaten at home.
Ryan Watts' steal and dunk in the opening minutes of the first quarter set the tone for the night as head coach Mitchell Harris opened up his offense and let his guards dictate the flow of the game.
"I put my guards in charge, that if they could play, I was going to give them the freedom, if they could play with discipline, they could decide how much fun we could have playing basketball," Harris said. "I told them I wanted to open it up to them, but they had to play with discipline."
Three days after carrying their team to a fourth-quarter victory over Clarke Central, Bulldog forwards Darius McKnight and Duane Ferrell weren't needed and saw limited action.
Instead, it was a combination of guard packages and pressure defense that led to the offensive explosion.
Rockdale (2-1) led 27-10 after the first period on the strength of 12 points from Nate Gissentaner, including six from 3-point range.
Freshman Kevin Waye saw his first action as a member of the varsity squad and he didn't disappoint. With 33 seconds to play in the first period, Waye stripped his defender at midcourt and took the ball to the rim, finishing the play with a resounding tomahawk jam.
The Panthers couldn't break the press, as Rockdale turned up the defensive pressure in the second quarter. The Bulldogs went on a quick 11-4 run midway through the period to push the lead to 48-20 going into halftime.
On a night when the entire team was firing on all cylinders, Harris went 15 deep and could afford to rest his big men and save them from the risk of injury.
"When I talked to them (Ferrell and McKnight), they said they knew they weren't supposed to play in this game as long as we win," he said. "They didn't need to be in the game. We didn't need them tonight and in a game like this there's no need to risk an injury because we're going to need them as the season wears on."
Gissentaner lead the way with 15 points, and Watts chipped in with 12 points and four steals as 13 Bulldogs scored. McKnight finished with five points and a team-high six rebounds and two blocks.
Rockdale 65, Jackson County 54
The Lady Bulldogs earned their first win of the season with a 65-54 victory over the Lady Panthers on Tuesday.
Fresh off a lopsided defeat at the hands of Clarke Central on Saturday night, coach Leonard Buckner's team came out ready to play.
"I was really just concerned about keeping their confidence up after the beating we took Saturday night from Clarke Central," Buckner said. "With our youth, I was trying to make sure we stayed up mentally and emotionally, and they came out and played good tonight."
Rockdale (1-2) started off hot, using precise ball handling and a pressure defense to confuse the Lady Panthers.
Porsha Cleveland scored six of her game-high 17 points in the first period as the Lady Bulldogs opened up a 19-11 lead by the end of the quarter.
Freshman standout Giovanni Simms had another solid game, scoring 13 points, including two on a beautiful drop-step on the low block that pushed the Rockdale lead to 15 with just over a minute left to play in the half.
While Rockdale had the game under control from the opening tip, Buckner's team got a bit sloppy in the fourth quarter.
"Our youth showed again," Buckner said. "Our decision-making was not the best, I'd say the first half of the fourth quarter. Instead of slowing it down and executing our offense, we kept trying to run up and down the floor and making mistakes."
Jackson County mounted a furious comeback attempt, hoisting 3-pointers on almost every trip down the floor, but Rockdale's poise down the stretch and ability to make free throws thwarted any serious charge.
While the Lady Panthers' shots wouldn't fall, Rockdale's free throws did. Rockdale was 19 of 23 from the free-throw line with Cleveland finishing a perfect 8 of 8 from the stripe.
"We made free throws down the stretch, and that was huge," Buckner said. "We've never shot that well before. There's a difference between Jackson County and Clarke Central, but a win is a win, and I take it proudly."