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Rockdale wins two close ones
Girls prevail in overtime; Giles leads boys to victory

CONYERS - On a frigid yet momentous Inauguration Day, both the Rockdale girls and boys basketball squads made some memories of their own Tuesday.

In the opening matchup, the Lady Bulldogs (4-16) won in overtime 45-39 behind the unforgettable play of a freshman - Brianna Lawrence.

Later, the Rockdale boys (14-6) retained their top spot in the subregion with a 71-67 win thanks to the sharpshooting of senior Julius Giles.

In what proved to be the most unorthodox game since coach Leonard Buckner took over the Rockdale girls program, his squad evened its subregion record at 2-2.

"That was probably the ugliest game that we've played since I've been here," Buckner said. "But I was happy with the effort at the end. We didn't quit. They listened to what the coaches were saying, so I'm very happy with that."

After Rockdale trailed for most of the game, Lawrence calmly sank a 3-pointer to tie it at 37 with 18 seconds remaining, forcing overtime and giving the Lady Bulldogs new life.

"I was confident it was going to go in, but my thought was, 'Please, please let it go in,'" said Lawrence, who finished with a game-high 12 points. "This was a big win for us. It really boosts up our confidence."

If that wasn't enough, Lawrence drilled the inevitable game-winning trey with 1:20 left in overtime.

"Even though she's a freshman, she comes up so big for us at times," Buckner said. "But being a ninth-grader, sometimes she'll lose focus in some games. She showed up tonight."

In the first half alone, each team had more turnovers than points accumulated. Despite committing 16 turnovers in the initial two quarters, Monroe Area led 13-8 at the half.

The offensive flow picked up in the third quarter with 3:36 remaining. After a steal - one of her game-high six - and layup by Nicole Cuffy to close the gap to 21-16, the bucket gave Rockdale eight points in the quarter, matching what the Lady Bulldogs had scored in the entire first half.

However, they allowed 17 points in the third quarter, falling behind 30-21 entering the fourth.

Rockdale slowly and methodically cut into the lead thanks to 16 points scored and sound defense, limiting Monroe Area to just seven.

Rockdale's Lauren Stewart added five points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots.

In the boys game, Giles tallied nine of his game-high 27 points in the final 80 seconds to give the Bulldogs their 14th win of the season.

"Really, what's truly going through my mind is that my team has a lot to learn," Rockdale coach Alvin Williams said. "We've just got to get some tradition here at Rockdale High - that's half the battle. We have to learn how to work hard, and we have to learn how to listen.

"When we listen, things go well, and when we don't, things don't go well."

In the final quarter, the Bulldogs certainly paid attention.

Behind by as many as seven deep in the fourth, Rockdale chipped away at the lead before Giles connected on one of his seven 3-pointers, tying it at 63 with 1:20 remaining.

After several lead changes, an uncontested layup by Rockdale's Byron Lawrence with 20 seconds left knotted the game at 67.

"(Byron) did a good job for us tonight," Williams said. "That's what I expect my guys to do is step up. I mean, it' a team game - you come to practice every day like everyone else does, and I expect you to know what you need to do and get it done."

With just 8.6 ticks left, Monroe Area's Bradley Smith was called for an offensive foul, resulting in not just a turnover but two Rockdale free throws and possession after a technical foul was assessed.

Giles sank both shots for the win, including two more after another foul to not only give the Bulldogs their first lead of the second half but also preserve the four-point victory.

"It was a good win," Giles said. "Coach told me to keep pulling, so that's what I did. (At the free-throw line), I thought, 'I gotta knock them down; I'm a senior.'"

Giles helped the Bulldogs jump out to a 19-16 lead after the first quarter by scoring 11 points, including three 3-pointers.

Monroe Area took a 31-30 advantage to close the first half.

Consecutive 3s by Jonathan Gissentanner and three more treys by Giles helped tie the game at 52 after three quarters of action.

Rockdale's Cordarryle Bethley recorded a season-high 12 assists.

Jason Murdock can be reached at jason.murdock@rockdalecitizen.com.