CONYERS - Both the Rockdale and Heritage boys basketball squads tip off tonight in the most crucial day of the season during the first round of the 8-AAAA tournament at Winder-Barrow High School.
Rockdale (17-7 overall), the No. 1 seed in the south subregion, will first battle Madison County (8-16), the No. 5 seed from the north, at 5:30 p.m.
"Our biggest key is to get our players to understand how big this game is," Rockdale coach Alvin Williams said. "Throughout the season, we have had letdowns because we have taken some teams lightly, whether because of their record or because we've beaten them before.
"We definitely can't afford to have that happen at this point."
Rockdale defeated Madison County 86-77 on Dec. 12 in their only regular season meeting.
Each team had four players score in double digits in that game. Bernard Thompson led Rockdale with 22 points, followed by senior Nate Gissentanner (18), Cordarryle Bethley (14) and Isaiah Gresham (10).
Bethley added four assists, while Gissentanner and Gresham combined for eight steals.
Madison County's Patrick McCrary led all scorers with 23 points. He also chipped in nine rebounds and had seven blocked shots. Bradley Raines recorded the game's only double-double with 16 points and 14 boards.
Reterrium Davis scored 15 points, and Seth Fleming added 14.
"Two things stand out from the first game," Williams said. "One is the passion our boys played with. They could sense that Madison County was a good team, and they were up to the challenge.
"The other thing is how we played as a team; everyone contributed and we supported each other. That's something we have not done every game, and we definitely need to be there for each other (today)."
The Bulldogs are averaging 69.7 points per game this season. Three players average double figures - Gissentanner (13 ppg), senior Julius Giles (12 ppg) and sophomore Kevin Ware (11 ppg).
Each is capable of lighting it up on any given night. Gissentanner drilled Loganville for 30 points earlier this season. Giles netted a season-high 27 against Monroe Area, and Ware scored 19 against Salem.
At 7 p.m., Heritage faces Apalachee, a team it took down earlier this year by 22 points - 69-47 on Jan. 17.
The Patriots (17-7) are the No. 2 seed in the south, while the Wildcats (11-12) are the No. 3 seed in the north.
Led by seniors Justin Jones and Shakeem Mitchell, the Patriots have a plethora of talent at each position.
Yet it starts at the top with Heritage coach Ron Bradley. Bradley has chalked up more victories in the country than any other boys high school basketball coach.
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: If You Go
What: 8-AAAA boys basketball tournament
Where: Winder-Barrow High School, Winder
· Madison County vs. Rockdale, 5:30 p.m.
· Apalachee vs. Heritage, 7 p.m.