The plan worked to perfection.
The Jaguars consistently double-teamed Fowler’s, and sometimes added a third defender. Ultimately, Stephenson held him to 12 points and went on to beat Allatoona 57-38 in Thursday’s Class AAAAA state quarterfinal game.
The Jaguars (25-7) will now face Warner Robins in the semifinals at Fort Valley State on Saturday.
“We knew he was a monster,” Gilleylen said. “We knew he could take over a game, and we didn’t want to let him do to us what he did to M.L. King. We wanted to make his life miserable.”
Stephenson did just that. After scoring 29 points in a second-round win over M.L. King, Fowler was held to just two field goals Thursday.
Shutting down Fowler was just half of the equation. The Jaguars used their superior size and strength inside to shut the rest of the Buccaneers down, too. Stephenson had 12 blocks, and when it didn’t swat a ball away from the basket, it consistently made shooters alter the trajectory on jumpers and layups, which usually turned into misses.
Allatoona’s 38 points was a season-low and only the second time the Buccaneers (29-2) were held under 50. It was also their first loss of the season to a team from Georgia.
“It was their night,” Allatoona coach Markus Hood said. “We didn’t make free throws and layups, and each time it looked like we were set to make a run to get back in the game, the key shots went in and out.
“But I can’t take anything away from them. They made the plays.”
Allatoona’s only lead of the night came at 1-0 after Trey Tshimanga made 1-of-2 free throws to start the game. It was all Stephenson from there.
The Jaguars scored the next eight points, the last coming on an alley-oop dunk fed by from Juwan Henderson to Montez Sweat.
Malik Cornelius’ steal and layup cut the lead to 8-3, but Daniel Kinchen scored Stephenson’s last 12 points of the quarter on three 3-pointers and three free throws. The 12-4 run gave the Jaguars a 20-7 lead at the end of the quarter, and Hood said it was the turning point of the game.
“I scouted them a lot,” the Allatoona coach said. “It wasn’t what (Kinchen) normally does.”
What it did was open the paint even more for Stephenson, which already had a 2- to 4-inch height advantage per man on the front line.
Dunks by Sweat and Delmont Walton pushed the lead to 26-10, and back-to-back layups by Tyrell Johnson and Lance Dixon made it 30-12 with just over 2 minutes before halftime.
Fowler and Bradley Brevet combined for five straight points — the longest Allatoona run of the night — to pull cut the lead to 30-18.
The Bucs made one push — highlighted by a five points from Shamar Griffin — to pull within 40-31 with 1:59 to play in the third quarter, but that was as close as Allatoona would come. Stephenson answered with a 12-2 run that lasted until the 5-minute mark of the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
Fowler was the only Allatoona player to reach double figures. Rodney Brown finished with nine points and Brevet finished with six.
Kinchen led Stephenson with 16 points, Sweat had 12, Walton finished with nine and Henderson added eight points and eight assists.