MCDONOUGH - The 15-point lead dwindled until it disappeared. Union Grove couldn't miss. The gym was rocking.
Through it all, Jamon Hawkins never wavered.
"Actually, it comes from practice," the Newton High guard calmly explained Friday night, moments after the Rams had held on for a gritty 66-62 road victory. "Coach (Rick Rasmussen) stresses making free throws. I just took everything slow."
In a frenzied fourth quarter that saw the Rams (5-1 overall, 2-1 Region 2-AAAAA) go from 15 points ahead to tied, Hawkins knocked down 9-of-10 free throws in the final two minutes and 57 seconds.
It's the type of victory that pays dividends in the region standings now, and can help prepare the Rams for the battles to come as the calendar flips to January and February.
"It was good for us to battle and win a close ballgame," Rasmussen said.
Earlier Friday, the Newton girls were within four points in the third quarter before Union Grove pulled away for a 74-47 victory.
In the boys game, the Rams looked well on their way to a comfortable victory after three quarters. A Sean Monk free throw with 6:53 to go made it 50-35.
Union Grove then turned the game upside down.
After hitting just 12-of-40 shots in the first three quarters, the Wolverines (4-4, 0-3) hit 11 of their final 14 attempts.
Isaiah Massey led the charge, scoring 12 points in the final six minutes. Massey's 3-pointer from the head of the key - which came after he lost the ball going up, but regained possession and shot - splashed home, tying the game at 62-62 with 12 seconds to go.
Newton inbounded the ball to Hawkins, who was fouled with 8.3 seconds left. He calmly sank two free throws to give Newton a 64-62 lead. After Massey's cross-court pass for Maryan Stewart sailed out of bounds, Union Grove fouled Hawkins again and he sank both free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining.
"Nice and soft; he did a real good job," Rasmussen said of Hawkins, who led Newton with 21 points. "He did not doubt they were going to go in. That's what good shooters do."
And Hawkins did it early in the game from a little farther out, hitting four first-half 3-pointers to help the Rams build their cushion. His trey from the left wing gave Newton its first lead at 9-8, and Monk found Hawkins for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the left wing to end the first quarter with the Rams up 15-10.
Two more Hawkins 3-pointers opened the second quarter and made it 21-14 Newton. Up 33-21 at halftime, the Rams turned to Monk in the third quarter. After Massey capped a 7-0 Union Grove run with a basket to bring the Wolverines within 35-28, Monk scored eight points during the final five minutes of the third quarter, his last giving the Rams a 47-34 advantage late in the period.
Monk finished with 18 points. Montrell Grimes added 11, as the Rams shot 51.1 percent from the field (22-for-43). Despite only hitting one field-goal attempt in the final 5:38, Hawkins provided enough offense from the free-throw line.
After making 1-of-2 from the line with 2:57 to go, Hawkins hit both ends of a one-and-one with 1:38 left and again with 38.9 seconds to go, giving the Rams a 62-56 advantage. Massey cut the lead in half with a 3-pointer from the left wing, the ball bouncing high off the rim before falling through and setting the stage for the wild finish.
A finish the Rams gladly will take.
"This really boosts our confidence," Hawkins admitted. "We don't have conflicts about passing the ball or who does the scoring. It's a team effort. That's really the thing I love about this team."
In the girls game, the Lady Rams (1-5, 0-3) trailed by as many as 11 in the first half, but rallied to within 32-28 on a Jasmine White 3-pointer early in the third quarter.
Then things fell apart for Newton, as the Lady Wolverines blew the game wide open.
Union Grove (3-5, 1-2) outscored the Lady Rams 18-8 over the next six minutes, then took complete control in the fourth quarter.
"It just takes heart to win games, and we are lacking that right now," Newton head coach Tiffani Johnson said. "We have to come out and play all four quarters. We can't take a quarter off, and that's what we did tonight."
Shay Marks led the Lady Rams with 17 points, 13 in the first half alone. Loren Wilkins scored 11 points.
Christina Carlis scored 19 points to pace Union Grove, which came within four points of knocking off No. 1-ranked Stephenson earlier this season.
Dejerecka Hines added 17 for the Lady Wolverines, and Tonya Nelson scored 11.
Newton struggled in all aspects of the game, turning the ball over 19 times, many of those miscues leading to easy Union Grove baskets.
"Our record may not show it, but we're jelling," Union Grove head coach Tom Murray said. "We're playing as a team and I couldn't be prouder. From start to finish, this was our best one so far."