CONYERS -- The last 18 Region 8-AAAAAAA games for the Rockdale County boys basketball team have been forgettable in most instances for the Bulldogs, who entered action Tuesday night looking for their first region win since 2018.
Looking to snap their 18-game region losing streak against South Gwinnett, a team they played close earlier this season, the Bulldogs sank 29 free throws and held the Comets’ offense in check to earn a much-needed 55-49 win on their home court.
“It is a big monkey off of my back,” Rockdale head coach Tyrone King said. “I can probably sleep better tonight, but we can’t let it stop here. Hopefully we can get a couple more region wins going into the tournament.”
The Bulldogs lived at the free throw line against the Comets, attempting 35 shots from the line. Senior’s Kevin Sesberry and Jheim McDonald combined to shoot 20 of 21 from the charity stripe while junior Elijah Jefferson knocked down six of his own.
For a Rockdale team not known for shooting a high percentage from the free throw line this season, King called it their saving grace Tuesday night.
“Our biggest achilles heel was our biggest asset tonight,” King said. “It worked out for us on the line. Jheim and Kevin were big-time from the line. We’ve just been preaching free throws and they were a focus today. I’m just proud of the kids.”
Having McDonald on the floor paid dividends for the Bulldogs Tuesday night. McDonald was out with a knee injury in their 53-49 loss earlier this season to the Comets. On Tuesday, McDonald started and scored a game-high 21 points, 10 of which were scored in the fourth quarter.
“It put us over the hill,” King said.
Rockdale knocked down 14 of 16 from the line in the first half to take a 26-19 lead into halftime. The Comets managed to trim the Bulldog lead to 18-15 with 5:24 remaining, but eight free throws down the stretch helped build a seven-point lead at the break.
The Bulldogs built an 11-point lead late in the third quarter when Sesberry knocked down a pair of free throws. Entering the game as Rockdale’s leading scorer, Sesberry said his team’s ability to drive to the basket and force contact was key.
“I saw it as the game went on,” Sesberry said. “They were playing us close, so we had to go right past them. We usually don’t shoot that well from the free throw line, but we got the job done today.”
Leading South Gwinnett 39-32 heading into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs’ lead was trimmed to two points, 45-43 with four minutes remaining.
After a timeout from South, the Bulldogs answered with their biggest basket of the game, a Sesberry assist to McDonald following an offensive rebound to extend their lead to four.
Sesberry later extended the Bulldogs’ lead to six, 49-43 with two more free throws before watching McDonald ice the game down the stretch. McDonald went to the line on three more possessions in the final minute and knocked down all six to secure the victory.
Sesberry ended his night with 16 points and was happy to see their long region losing streak come to an end.
“It feels great,” Sesberry said. “We haven’t won a region game in a long time, so it felt good to get a region win. This should give us a lot of confidence. Everyone came into the locker room happy, so hopefully it will carry on into the next game.
Elijah Jefferson chipped in with 10 points in the win. The Bulldogs will be back in action Friday night at Shiloh.