CONYERS - On Saturday afternoon, Stephenson came, it saw, it conquered, handing Rockdale a pair of losses in nonregion play.
Stephenson 88, Rockdale 78
Between the astounding play of Stephenson's Adrian Coleman and Kevin Dukes, who combined for 54 points, Rockdale (13-6 overall, 3-0 in 8-AAAA South) dropped its first game of the new year.
"I think some of our kids need to go back to basic, defensive techniques," Rockdale coach Alvin Williams said. "This is a good game to play this time of the season so we can know the little things - which are really big things - to win basketball games, and I see the little things we need to work on."
It also comes at the hands of a remarkable second-half performance by Rockdale senior Jonathan Gissentanner, who after scoring just two points in the first half added 17 in the second to finish with a team-high 19 points.
After the opening eight minutes, Rockdale took a 16-8 lead behind the explosive play of freshman Darien Clark, who netted eight of his 18 total points in the first quarter, including 4 of 4 from the charity stripe. He also added 10 rebounds in the game.
"Offensively, yes it was his best game of the season, but he's played better defensive games," Williams noted.
The Bulldogs extended their lead in the second quarter after back-to-back buckets by Bernard Thompson and Cordarryle Bethley to make it 20-8.
A pair of free throws by Dukes cut the lead in half before Rockdale sophomore Kevin Ware recorded the highlight of the day with a four-point play.
After a rare turnover by the Jaguars, Ware drove to the basket on the break, rising above the rim for the vigorous dunk despite being intentionally fouled from behind.
Ware, a non-starter, finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
But after Stephenson inched its way closer, Coleman's slam dunk gave his squad the lead 34-33.
By halftime Rockdale trailed 35-33. Furthermore, the Bulldogs had 18 first-half turnovers which led to eight points scored.
"As the younger guys learn, and as we get back to the basics, we're going to be just fine," Williams confided.
Meanwhile, Stephenson shot 10 of 12 from the free-throw line in the first half. The Jaguars finished a ridiculous 32-of-38 from the charity stripe (84 percent).
Rockdale tied the game at 35 to open the third after a dunk by Clark. However, it would be the final tie of the game after Coleman countered with a deep 3-pointer to put the Jags up for good.
During the final stages of the game, no matter what Rockdale did Stephenson had an answer, whether utilizing the half-court press to force more turnovers or converting from the free-throw line.
In the fourth quarter alone, Stephenson was 15 of 19 from the charity stripe, while Rockdale managed just five attempts (80 percent).
Overall, Rockdale shot 1 of 10 from downtown while committing 25 turnovers resulting in 12 points scored. However, the Bulldogs were 17 of 20 from the free-throw line (85 percent).
"Yeah, we did good from the free-throw line," Williams said. "That's definitely a positive tonight."
Thompson ended with 11 points and eight boards for the Bulldogs.
Stephenson's Jonathan Tinch had 14 points.
The woes continued for the Lady Bulldogs (3-16, 1-2) as they dropped their 16th game of the season against the No. 4 Lady Jaguars (11-4, 4-2).
"We didn't keep them off the boards tonight," Rockdale coach Leonard Buckner said. "They were bigger than us, and with Lauren Stewart out with a sinus infection that hurt us on the board today. If we'd had her today it's a closer game or different outcome."
Despite noteworthy performances by Rockdale's Aselah Mazone (seven points, nine rebounds and two steals) and point guard Henrietta Carr, the red and black were no match for Stephenson.
"I scheduled a tough team (Stephenson); a team that has the ability to give you a wake-up call and get ready for region play," Buckner said.
Making matters worse for the Lady Bulldogs was the absence of Stewart, who leads the team in rebounds and blocks. Stewart has been sidelined with a sinus infection; however, she is expected to return to action Monday.
Regardless of their record, the Lady Bulldogs are still in the hunt. After all, they are 1-2 in sub-region play.
"Yeah, we're still in the race," Buckner said. "If we can get Monroe Area and if we can get Heritage again, and Salem slips on a banana peel, we'll be OK."
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.