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Posted: December 15, 2011 6:22 p.m.

Sense of normalcy

Rams earn first region win, seventh straight over Stephenson

The Rams may have found their groove. All it took was a game against Stephenson. 

After three losses by a combined six points, Newton pounded the Jaguars 50-31 Tuesday for its second straight win. The Rams defeated Walnut Grove Saturday.

Newton’s win was also its seventh straight over its region rival. The Rams and Jaguars have met in each the past two region title games with Newton winning both. They also swept Stephenson in each both years during regular-season play.

“It’s good to get two in a row,” Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. “That’s called a streak and maybe we can put a longer one together taking each game as it comes. At some point streaks are broken but this is a fun rivalry. It really goes back to 2005 when we both made it to the Final Four out of our region. We’ve may have their number recently but we’ve had some great battles back and forth in the past.”

Stephen Croone led the way with 14 points while Justin Thompson continued his recent offensive surge, dropping 11 and scoring in double digits for the third straight game. 

Croone and Thompson took turns carrying the offensive load. Thompson scored Newton’s final seven points in the first quarter to give the Rams a 9-5 lead while Croone dropped 12 in the third to break open a one-point game. 

“I thought it was a good sign when Shane (Henry) and Stephen were scoreless in the first half and we still led by one,” Rasmussen said. “He’s (Thompson) capable of scoring. He and Stephen were a force during the summer so we know he has that ability.”

Croone continued a recent trend of lying low before catching fire. Against Langston Hughes he scored 20 of his 27 points in the final quarter and overtime. He scored 20 in the third quarter against Walnut Grove Saturday before putting up 12 in the third Tuesday.

“It’s taking us too long to get going in the first half,” Rasmussen said. “Stephen has had four in the first half of games and ended with 36. It’s crazy. If he plays a complete game — who knows?”

Derrick Harper led the way for Stephenson with 11. Fresh off a 39-point effort in a win against East Coweta, Harper was the lone Jaguar in double figures. 

“They are young and inexperienced and it’s tough for Harper when he’s looking around wondering who else is going to do something,” Rasmussen said. 

Both offenses struggled early on. Stephenson took a 3-0 lead on Harper’s three to open the game but Thompson scored a pair of buckets inside and hit a three to give Newton the lead.

Newton scored just nine points in the second quarter as well and clung to a one-point lead at halftime.

The Rams finally got it going offensively in the third thanks in large part to their defense and rebounding. They were able to get out in the open floor and convert turnovers into points and outscored the Jaguars 23-6. 

“We played well defensively in the third quarter and we rebounded well,” Rasmussen said. “I thought our pressure was the difference in the third quarter.”

Croone’s dunk capped the scoring in the quarter and the Rams led by 18 going into the fourth.

“It’s taking us too long to get cranked up,” Rasmussen said. “At home in particular we’ve struggled in the first half for whatever reason. We struggled offensively to start again tonight but I thought we had a great second half offensively.”

The win moved the Rams back to .500 on the season. They face another tough test when they visit Eastside tomorrow. 

Newton lost its only game to the Eagles under Rasmussen there last year. They’ll go into the game with perhaps the most confidence they’ve had so far this season. 

“We’re still feeling our way through who we are as a team,” Rasmussen said. “We’re trying to find the right mixture of guys and we’re still a work in progress but I feel like we’re starting to get some life back in us.”

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