DACULA - The Rockdale boys got a big lift from their bench against Jackson County in the Region 8-AAAA tournament Monday night at Dacula High School.
Freshman Kevin Ware scored a team-high 18 points off the bench, and Jerrod Graves chipped in 12 as the Bulldogs (13-10) advanced to the quarterfinals with a 75-56 victory over Jackson County in Monday's late game.
Rockdale advances to play No. 6 Dacula at 8:30 p.m. today. The winner will earn a berth in the state tournament.
"The kids played really hard and they never gave up," Rockdale coach Mitchell Harris said. "With the kind of basketball we're going to have to play, we're going to have to trust that everybody is going to go in there and play hard. It's one of the first games all year the players were asking to come out because they were playing so hard. It's a one-game season now, so we don't need to save anything for the next game."
Rockdale got off to a slow start in the first quarter before a 15-2 run to close out the period established an 18-10 advantage for the Bulldogs. Graves played a key role in the run with six points.
In the second quarter, Ware scored 11 as Rockdale slowly pulled away from Jackson County. The Bulldogs ended the first half with an 11-2 run, pushing their lead to 45-28 at halftime.
Rockdale was never challenged seriously in the second half.
Ware finished the game with 18 points, six rebounds and two steals, while senior center Darius McKnight chipped in eight points, 12 boards and five blocked shots. Cordarryl Bethly added six points and six steals.
Joseph Smith paced the Panthers with a game-high 20 points.
The Bulldogs will now turn their attention to Dacula, the No. 1 seed from 8-AAAA North. The Falcons won the regular-season meeting 67-54 in the season opener Nov. 30. However, Rockdale played right with Dacula for most of the game.
"We were ahead after three quarters in the last game we played them," Harris said. "One of the things we're guarding against is a fourth-quarter concern. If we're going to play this hard, we don't need to be concerned about any quarter.
"Actually, I feel real confident (about playing Dacula). After the first time we played them, I was hoping we'd get another chance to play them this season. I don't like just playing a team once."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at email@example.com.