The Rockdale County Bulldogs varsity basketball team kept the Luella Lions in check for much of the first 16 minutes of Tuesday night’s Region 2-AAAAAA semifinals contest, but in the end, the Lions put on a show, walking away with a 74-58 win over the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs led midway through the second quarter, despite eight first half blocks from the Lions’ Doral Moore, but Rockdale’s lead slipped away before halftime. Luella outscored the Bulldogs 32-20 in the fourth quarter, turning the final eight minutes into a dunk contest for the Lions’ faith that traveled to Newton High.
Jalen Jordan led Rockdale with 29 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, but the sophomore’s effort wasn’t enough to quell the Lions’ roar.
Rockdale will face Lovejoy at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Newton in the consolation game, while Luella will take on Newton at 8:30 p.m. for the region title.
“There was a stretch in the second quarter where they retook the lead and we didn’t recover after that,” said Rockdale assistant coach Tyrone King, who was coaching in place of Al Williams Monday night. “Luella turned up its defense big time after we got our early lead and denied our guys the ball a lot. Jalen tried to keep us in the game, but it wasn’t enough tonight. It’s hard to get around Luella’s length.”
While the Bulldogs struggled late with Luella’s size, it was the Lions who sputtered early after leading 9-4 in the first half. Trailing by five, Rockdale went on a 7-2 run fueled by a Brian Jessie three-point play and a Darryl Tucker offensive rebound and dunk. The run tied the game at 11-11 and the Bulldogs carried a 15-13 advantage into the second quarter, scoring the final basket of the quarter on a Jordan drive and layup.
In the second period, Rockdale pushed its lead to 18-14 on another Tucker score inside and a Conner Ferrell free throw, but the Bulldogs were unable to hang onto the lead. Trailing 20-19, Luella’s Andre Banton drained a 3-pointer from the right corner, giving the Lions a 22-20 lead with 3:26 left in the half.
The jumper fueled a 13-2 run for the Lions, who scored twice on Moore jumpers and on a Kylin Terrel dunk.
Rockdale tried to rebounds, ending the period on a 5-3 spurt, but momentum shifted the Lions’ way, as Luella went into halftime with a 35-27 advantage.
Banton led the Lions with 10 points at halftime, but it was Moore’s defensive presence that brought the Bulldogs down to Earth after their hot start.
Luella pushed its lead to double digits in the third on a TeMarcus Blanton layup, but a Jordan 3-pointer with 3:43 gone in the period trimmed the lead back to nine. Rockdale hung around the nine-point deficit until the Lions closed the quarter on an 8-2 run, scoring twice in the lane while going a perfect 4-of-4 from the charity stripe.
The late-quarter push allowed Luella to take a 52-38 lead into the fourth quarter, with the Lions’ scoring night was far from over.
The Lions extended their lead to 20 on a Darrius Norris 3-pointer, starting off another Luella run. Norris’ basket began a 19-3 run for the Lions, quelled only by a Tucker dunk and a Jordan free throw. Norris scored three times from behind the arc during the run and Blanton added an empathic 360-dunk. When the run ended, the Lions held a 74-45 lead with 3:59 to go, dashing the Bulldogs’ hopes of a title game date with rival Newton.
Jordan closed the game with 10 points on a 13-0 Rockdale run, but the Bulldogs’ push game too late, as the Lions held on for the 26-point win.
Tucker also finished in double figures with 10 points for the Bulldogs, while Banton finished with 16 to pace the Lions. Blanton and Moore also added 15 and 13, respectively.